How to harass others and (almost) get away with it (and what it means to be an employee in a safe workplace)
Today I discovered how to successfully harass others. It’s a subtle art - be creepy and offensive enough to make your victim uncomfortable, but not so much that you raise any alarms or evoke an outward response. Say just enough to toe the line; don’t blast it to pieces.
I work in a medical office and I was taking a patient’s vital signs. For the duration of our time together, the patient made continuous comments about my appearance, my relationship status, implied a relationship between the two of us that was more than a medical assistant and a patient, word play with mildly inappropriate words…It was enough that I scooted out of the room as fast as I could, but not enough that I felt I needed to call in reinforcements.
I told two other people in the office - not because I felt the need to report the patient (remember the bit about only toeing the line and not obliterating it?) but mostly because I wanted someone else to crinkle their noses with me. I wanted someone else to have the same reaction I did so I would know I wasn’t overreacting. Because up until I saw my co-workers’ nose crinkles, I did feel like I was overreacting.
What I didn’t anticipate was shortly after the first nose crinkle and dumbfounded look, my coworker immediately said, “That’s not okay. The doctor needs to know about this.” And then she told the doctor. And then later the doctor took me aside and said it’s not okay for anyone to abuse anyone else in this office. The patient will get a warning and if he does it again, he will be discharged from the doctor’s services.
Just like that.
I hadn’t thought of what happened as abuse and if I could have scooped my jaw off the floor in time, I might have protested the use of the word. But if someone’s comments are making another person - patient or employee - feel uncomfortable and unsafe, then it should not, and will not, be tolerated. Simple as that.
Discharging an ill patient from a doctor’s care seems extreme. But you know what? Objectifying and minimizing another human being is also extreme. And it feels good to know the rest of the office has my back.