How to stay above the law while spreading the love

January 18, 2018
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February is the month of love. While it might not be prudent to go to Kay Jewelers to purchase a demonstration of your love for your co-workers and patients, it is definitely appropriate to find a way to acknowledge your appreciation of them. But these days, the media headlines one sexual harassment claim after another. So how do you demonstrate your love and appreciation at work without crossing the proverbial line?

  1. Hands off. There are no excuses to touch a person without that person’s consent. Period. End of story. No hugging. No patting on the shoulder. No reassuring squeeze of the knee. In place of all of those familiar gestures, use your words (wisely!) to express your appreciative thoughts.
  2. Use your words wisely. “Sweetie” might be a term of endearment that flows easily from your lips, but using that term might make someone uncomfortable. Partner with your co-workers to create a handbook of acceptable and non-acceptable behaviors. If you can think of a couple of long-standing, trusted patients whose opinions you value, consider inviting them to join the conversation so you can hear a patient’s point of view. But the bottom line is that what is not offensive to one person may be offensive to another, so you need to avoid using any language that could be perceived as distasteful, patronizing or insensitive.
  3. Behave respectably. You are a professional in your community, and your community members look up to you. If you’re not sure whether or not a behavior is respectable, think about how you would like your child’s teacher to behave in the presence of your child, and do the same.
  4. Drink responsibly. (If at all.) While we are advocates of socializing with fellow staff members, you need to be careful if you do. When drinks are involved, give yourself a one drink maximum. And when you really start to have fun, say goodnight and leave. You’ll have a much easier time staying out of trouble.
  5. Protect yourself. If at all possible, do not make yourself vulnerable by being alone in a room with a patient or staff member, particularly if you have any sense of discomfort about the situation. Personal security is always a concern, but also, if for any reason someone challenges what went on in the room with just the two of you, it could come down to your word against the word of the other person, and the outcome may not be desirable for you.

The world is changing. The same way that we’ve had to adapt to new technology in dentistry, we also have to adapt to new cultural norms. But rather than allowing love and appreciation to become casualties of the changing times, let’s find new and appropriate ways to express these feelings. And what better time than in February, the month of love?