The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Business

June 14, 2013

Watercooler: Skin-deep problem or rotten to the core?

Reader 1: I work at a nonprofit that has a strong commitment to equality. We recently hired a younger, conventionally attractive woman. When she was introduced at a staff meeting, an older male staff member joked, "No one told you about the table dance?"

I wouldn't want him to get in serious trouble, but his comment was out of line and inappropriately sexualizing. We have a good collegial relationship, so I just want to tell him, kindly, that his joke made me uncomfortable. It may be that someone else has talked to him already; our bosses and members of our firm's sexual harassment task force were in the meeting. But if no one has said anything, I don't want to just let it go.

Reader 2: How do you handle a boss with a drinking problem? This person, president of a small association, drinks too much during social functions. Then he sends abusive work-related emails at 2 or 3 a.m. in which he says things he would never say in person in the office. How to respond to those emails?

Karla: These situations remind me of a bruise on a fruit. Sometimes it's a harmless blemish, and sometimes it portends a rind full of rot.

Surface problems in a workplace can usually be resolved between sensible individuals. Systemic problems require painful, large-scale intervention by management or external forces; without that support, workers are generally limited to hunkering down or fleeing.

Reader 1, let Uncle Leery know his comment surprised you, and how uncomfortable it must have made the new hire. He may express remorse, or he may scoff, but even if he's already gotten a woodshed lecture from the task force, you will have discreetly put him on notice that at least one respected colleague was not amused. One tasteless joke isn't worth an inquisition — but if he keeps giving encores with management's tacit approval, it might be time to find out how committed to equality your company is, starting with that task force.

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