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. 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 and shares inappropriate text messages at the beginning of our weekly meetings, and some of his comments are really quite perverted. A few of us have tried to ignore his behavior thinking it would get better. Well, it hasn’t. What can we do?
A. From the limited information you have shared, it sounds like this behavior may not be just inappropriate, but also illegal.
If you feel comfortable, you and a few of your colleagues could approach your manager in a nonthreatening 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 human resources representative.
Share specifics in terms of examples. Document what you have seen and heard. An internal investigation should be launched. 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.” I consulted Valerie Samuels, an employment attorney at Posternak, Blankenstein & Lund in Boston. Samuels provided a layperson’s definition of “hostile work environment.” Samuels explained that when a client calls with such a concern, she looks 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.”
Samuels added, “It is unlawful for a manager or the company to retaliate against you or your colleagues as a result of your complaint.”
For more information about sexual harassment and Massachusetts law, visitwww.mass.gov/mcad/shguide.html.
Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton.