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And They Wonder Why There are no Women Working There…

Mar 14, 2012   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Professional Development, Snark, WIT  //  19 Comments

Red stapler fom Office Space

I know I work in a man’s world.  Women make up a small percentage of technology professionals, but I’d like to see that changed.   Rob recently came across this report from the Ontario Labour Relations Board about a dismissed elevator company worker who had appealed his case to the board.  One of his defenses was that his behaviour was acceptable because there were no women working on the job site and therefore his behaviour should have been okay. In other words: it was a man’s world.

Wait until you read about the behaviour…Okay I should tell you to swallow that swig of coffee and put your mug down, first.

The responding party dismissed the grievor from employment when a video posted on the internet showing the grievor with his genitals exposed and his scrotum being stapled to a 4 x 4 wooden plank came to its attention.


Did that get your attention?  It did mine. I’d like to hope that it wouldn’t have been just females who thought that this act was inappropriate for the workplace.  In fact, the outcome of the hearing reaffirmed the dismissal and the behaviour was deemed to violate the company’s workplace harassment policy.  Think about that.  A guy who was stapling himself was harassing others.

Boys Will Be Boys?

Part of the former-employee’s defense was that the lunchroom where this happened was an "all male environment" and that this sort of thing happened on the show Jackass…basically that boys will boys.  This reminded me of a recent article from Business Week about the new trend for companies to recruit and hire Brogrammers.  These are anti-geek, all-male teams of programmers who like to "bro down and crush code".  I guess because that is "better" than being a geek.  I left a comment on that article in case you are interested in reading my opinion about companies who want to recruit only brogrammers.

But back to our elevator guy…

Some of the other wonderful things that took place in this broworker environment:

One individual (not the grievor) was offered $60 gathered from the people in the room if he ate the spoiled food.  He did and received the $60.  The grievor explained that someone watching what had taken place said after the money was paid, “what are you going to do to top that next week?”

The following week, the grievor suggested to the individual who had eaten the spoiled food that he would collect money from the group if that individual chewed off the grievor’s rotten toenail.  Some $75 was collected from about the same number of people.  When that individual chewed off the grievor’s rotten toenail, the $75 was paid to him.

Again, you’d think that gender had nothing to do with whether or not this behaviour was acceptable, but it was a part of the defense to state that this sort of thing happens when guys get together.  In fact, it turns out this might not have been issue until someone posted a recording of the stapling to the Internet.

There was no evidence that any one who witnessed the incident first hand was offended by the grievor’s conduct, the applicant pointed out.  To the contrary, both the grievor and others were cheering.  It was only after the video was posted on the internet that the grievor’s conduct became an issue and the grievor was not only not responsible for circulating the video so widely, he had sought to have it removed.

One of my favourite findings:

I agree with the grievor; exposing his genitals and permitting his scrotum to be stapled to a wooden board was not only inappropriate behaviour, it demonstrated a great deal of stupidity.

And in case you are worried about whether or not you need to update your organization’s workplace policies:

In my view, any reasonable employee would recognize that exposing one’s genitals and having one’s scrotum stapled to a 4×4 wooden board on the employer’s premises and permitting that conduct to be recorded on a video is patently unacceptable in almost any workplace particularly when the employer of the employees involved can be easily identified.  An employer, in my view, need not establish and promulgate a policy prohibiting that kind of behaviour.

I’ve also been in workplaces where there is a lot of harassment going on.  It’s always a tough decision as to whether I should just say "boys will be boys", to ask people to stop, to leave the room, or to escalate the issue.  I think I’ve only ever once escalated an issue and it just about killed me to do so.  But someone else was being bullied and she nor I could get the bullies to stop.  In the end, she had to leave and find a job elsewhere.  It’s tough to be the person who feels a workplace has become hostile. 

Lessons Learned

What I learned from this case:

  • Your team members will have a huge range of opinions about what they think is acceptable behaviour and what isn’t.
  • You are bound to cross that line or witness that line being crossed at some point in your career…or even many times.
  • Sometimes speaking up isn’t about complaining…it’s about stopping something stupid from hurting everyone.
  • Just because no one has reported you now, doesn’t mean someone isn’t going to report you in the future.
  • Your activities in The Office matter because they reflect on the reputation of the company.
  • If there’s a camera around, the pictures and the video will end up on the internet.  Act accordingly.
  • I’m going to bring my own stapler to work from now on.

I’m wondering, though, where the team crossed the line, in your opinion.  Was it at the eating of rotten food?  The toenail thing? And was the behaviour more acceptable because there were no women in the room?  I really want to know what you think.

I’m glad the Board felt is behaviour was unacceptable even though there were no women around. It’s difficult find the balance between "it’s all fun and games here" and "until someone gets hurt".  But I think I’m really clear on this point: staplers are for paper only.

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