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Harassment concerns within the workplace

Q: I work in a small company outside of Boston. We manufacture a highly specialized medical device, which is considered very innovative and could help many people live longer lives. I love what I do since I am part of a team of engineers. However, the company just hired a new manager for our team. Although I think he is a very competent engineer, his professional etiquette is lacking. He tells vulgar jokes to our team members, shares inappropriate text messages at the beginning of our weekly meetings and some of his comments are really quite perverted. A few of us has tried to ignore his behavior thinking it would get better. Well, it hasn't. What can we do? We love it here!

A: I am sorry that you have had to encounter what sounds like inappropriate behavior in the workplace. From the limited data you have shared, it sounds like this behavior may not be just inappropriate but also illegal.

If you feel comfortable, you could also (along with a few of your colleagues) approach your manager in a non-threatening way. Tell him his comments are inappropriate and make others feel awkward. Ask him to stop. If his conduct continues, I would suggest contacting your HR Representative. Share specifics in terms of examples and others who may have been present. Document what you have seen and heard thus far. An internal investigation should be launched to better understand the concerns. Based on this investigation, a trained HR professional, will be able to determine the best course of action.

One part of the legal definition of sexual harassment is whether the individual's behavior creates a "hostile work environment" within your workplace. I consulted Valerie Samuels, an employment attorney at Posternak, Blankenstein & Lund. Samuels first provided a layperson's definition of "hostile work environment." Samuels explained that when a client calls with such a concern, she is looking for behaviors "that are so awful that no responsible person will tolerate the actions. The behavior needs to reach beyond annoying or difficult. The behavior also must be severe and pervasive and based on a protected characteristic, such as age, sex, race, gender or sexual orientation." Samuels added, "It is unlawful for a manager or the company to retaliate against your or your colleagues as a result of your complaint." For more information about harassment in the state of Massachusetts, visit http://www.mass.gov/mcad/shguide.html.

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