Veterinary practice management consultant Mark Opperman, CVPM, of VMC Inc., wrote “I was accused of sexual harassment" in February 2015 Veterinary Economics about his experience facing a sexual harassment claim after making a joke and brushing a veterinary team member’s arm. One of our readers didn’t think Opperman took the charge seriously enough...
Letter to the editor:
Mr. Opperman's article, while providing useful information, seemed to brush off his behavior in the circumstance. Even without the zoonotic concerns of leptospirosis, there are a lot of women who would take the cavalier attitude about touching by a stranger as sexual harassment.
When you then claim to be aware of proper protocol for handling a leptospirosis case, why then would you make a joke out her concern for your health and everyone else in the hospital? It seems that some more attention to "preventive care" in potential lawsuit circumstances on your part should receive more emphasis.
—James Frank, DVM
Lakeside Animal Hospital in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
'I was only trying to be friendly,' Opperman says on the next page ...
Dear Dr. Frank,
First of all, thank you for providing your feedback. I am always interested to hear other people’s perspective, but I must take issue with your comment that I had a cavalier attitude about touching another employee. I think it’s important that we both are clear on how sexual harassment is defined.
Here is how the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines sexual harassment:
“It is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include ‘sexual harassment’ or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.
“Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general. Both victim and the harasser can be either a woman or a man, and the victim and harasser can be the same sex.
“Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).
“The harasser can be the victim's supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.”
In this case, I was only trying to be friendly with the employee and comfort a patient that was being treated in the middle of the treatment area with no indication of a zoonotic disease. There was no ill intent, yet I was still accused of sexual harassment.
The article was published with the intent to start discussion and assure that veterinary hospitals are alert to potential issues and to respond to them in a professional manner before they get out of hand.