Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about warning to women employees:
I work at a small firm of about 50 employees. There are approximately 20 – 25 female employees (1/2 of the company) and all the others are men. Today all the female employees were summoned to the conference room. There was no pre-planned meeting called, another employee (the accountant) went around and asked each one of us individually to go to the conference room immediately with no explanation at that time. I want to let you know that this ended up being a meeting about feminine hygiene issues and the ladies bathroom so I hope you are not uncomfortable with my concerns when I explain them.
Once in the room, on the conference table was a basket with playtex gloves, bathroom cleaner and paper towels. The HR administrator proceeded to read from a typewritten paper that was not handed out to us, the following: (I am only repeating what I heard her read so it will not be exactly verbatim because we were given nothing in writing):She said that it had come to her attention that the women’s bathroom was not being properly maintained by the female employees, in fact it was completely disgusting. Among her accusations: A sanitary napkin had been flushed down the toilet and caused a toilet backup, blood had been found on a toilet seat and the wall of a stall, someone had a bowel movement accident and fecal matter was found on the woman’s bathroom floor. In a very strong tone, she told us that we need to clean up after ourselves and make sure there is no debris left on and around the toilets and stalls, and cleaning supplies displayed on the table were being provided for that. She also insinuated that what she found was disgusting and gross (inferring that we were all disgusting).
She continued to tell all of us that if the bathroom is not maintained properly, disciplinary actions will be taken up to and including dismissal from the company.My question. Is it acceptable to have all the women and only the woman of the company corralled into a room and admonished for unacceptable hygiene issues that, I’m sure, at least 98% of the women had nothing to do with and also threaten all of us with possible firing?I’m sure, if those things did occur, not every single one of us women in the room is the alleged culprit who caused these things to happen.
As far as improper feminine hygiene product disposal, many of the women are at an age where they no longer use them. I personally have never seen these conditions in the woman’s bathroom and I use it 3 – 4 times a day during the work week as other woman do. Other woman I spoke to after this meeting have agreed that they have not seen these kind of conditions either.
This was very insulting to most of us and we felt like we were being strong armed, intimidated and fearful of being fired, for something that we have never done. Does an employee grin and bear it or does one have to just look for a new job if they find that kind of reprimand uncalled for at a place of employment? I’m not a litigious person, but was there anything illegal in this action, especially when it was only directed at the women of the company in this manner? It has really hurt the morale of the hard working women who work here.I hope you can give me some advice and answers regarding these issues, so I can have some resolve and closure on this most uncomfortable situation.Thank you,A concerned, hurt and shocked and now fearful employee.
Signed, Feeling Threatened
Dear Feeling Threatened:
I can imagine you’re frustrated and irritated, but likely the issue is the way the problem was communicated. There is nothing illegal about the group instruction, or a group reprimand. It certainly COULD have been inappropriate to only talk to those who are likely still having periods, or those who admit to recently having bowel problems! So, since it’s a women’s bathroom, all women should be part of the discussion. What would have been preferable might have been to have an employee council, comprised of only employees, decide how to best deal with the situation. Maybe you can suggest regular team meetings in the future-not just to focus on complaints, but also to congratulate each other on good things that have happened.The fact that you haven’t seen problems might mean that others have been cleaning up. Or, the custodian may have dealt with it. Frankly, I think a custodian SHOULD be dealing with it. But, I also think employees should clean up after themselves. The problem is getting them to do it, when you don’t know who has made the problem. That’s why I tend to clean up everyone mess in bathrooms! In an office where I worked, the problem one day was so gross as to be unfathomable. I cleaned it up. When I asked the other five about it, they all vehemently denied any aspect of it. Thus, I assume total strangers were breaking into our offices, stealing bathroom keys, using the bathroom and leaving it a mess, then sneaking out! There seems to be an underlying problem about communication and respect between all levels of your organization, that makes this situation particularly irritating to you and others. See if you can find a way to help everyone gain and maintain a feeling of ownership for all aspects of work. That will solve many problems! Best wishes
Tina Lewis Rowe