Ask Amy: ‘Best of’ column concerns workplace harassment
Dear Readers: Every year I step away from my column briefly to work on other creative projects. (Anyone interested in my personal essays and photographs can subscribe to my free newsletter: amydickinson.substack.com).
I’ll be back next week. Today’s “Best of” topic from 10 years ago concerns workplace sexual harassment.
Dear Amy: I have been working off and on as a freelance consultant for a nonprofit organization.
I work from a home office and take occasional meetings with employees of the nonprofit. I also meet with clients.
Recently the organization hired a new director; I was working as a consultant on a project for the organization at the time.
Soon after his hiring, the new director asked to have lunch with me.
The new director and I went to a nearby restaurant to talk about possible future projects, etc.
At the end of the luncheon, as we were saying goodbye on the curb outside the restaurant, I reached my hand out to shake his.
Suddenly, he pulled me toward him and kissed me full on the lips.
I was so shocked that I said a weak goodbye and left him standing there.
I completed my assignment feeling awkward and wondering if I wanted to work with him in the future. This is not a decision I can make lightly as there are very few job opportunities in my area of expertise, and now I don’t know what to do.
Amy, I would appreciate your perspective on this situation. I wonder if he has a problem that should be reported to the board of trustees.
I also wonder if I am making too much of this.
– Kissed Consultant
Dear Kissed: Addressing the question of whether you are making too much of this: Do your other colleagues and clients kiss you on the lips after a business meeting? Does this director kiss male colleagues and consultants on the lips after a meeting?
I assume the answer to both questions is no.
People who are subjected to unwanted sexual contact often wonder if they are overreacting. They are often also encouraged to doubt their own instincts.
There is a very common-sense boundary around business meetings, and it's not really that challenging or confusing to stay within the boundary. Physical contact after a business meeting should be confined to a handshake.
Yes, I believe you should write a letter to the board of trustees regarding this new employee.
Explain in very simple language what happened, i.e., "At the end of our business lunch, when I extended my hand to shake his, Mr. Smith pulled me toward him and kissed me on the lips. I was shocked at the time, and upon reflection continue to be concerned about his conduct. In my experience consulting for this organization, I have always conducted myself professionally and until now have always been treated with professionalism, and respect."
If the board handles this well, expect to revive your business relationship and work with the organization in the future. – December 2012
Dear Amy: Your answer to “Kissed Consultant” was way off the mark. This consultant was kissed by a new director of the nonprofit she was consulting for, and you want her to notify the board of directors?
What if he misread her signals, or what if he is from another culture and didn’t know any better?
Dear Appalled: This man should already know better than to pull a business associate close and kiss her full on the lips after their first meeting.
One way to educate him would be for the board of directors to let him know what is and is not acceptable professional conduct. – December 2012
Dear Amy: I know you took flak for your response to the “Kissed Consultant,” who said that a male director of the nonprofit she was consulting for kissed her on the lips after a business lunch. You suggested she should notify the board of directors about this man’s actions.
I thought your comments were right on. When this happened to me, I reported it to my boss (it was his boss who was the kisser).
He talked to his boss, who apologized.
– Happened to Me
Dear Happened: Unless this sort of thing has happened to you, I don’t know if people can understand what a violation this is from a business associate who, incidentally, is also a complete stranger.
No matter what the intention might have been, this is not an affectionate or friendly act, but one that seems aggressive. It is highly inappropriate. – December 2021
©2022 Amy Dickinson. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.