A Safe Place to Work

Just after writing my column on safety a couple of weeks ago, I received a message from Citycounty Insurance Services that we will be receiving another award this year.  We never know whether our award will be gold, silver, or bronze until the annual League of Oregon Cities Conference (next week); but whatever award we receive is a tribute to safe work practices in all departments.

Physical safety is of obvious importance to all of us.  What may be less obvious is the need for a work environment that protects us from harassment and other offensive behavior.  Most of us realize our sensibilities will be challenged by the public from time to time given the nature of the work we do.  I have been called some very bad names over the years, and I have heard citizens use some really nasty language when complaining about water bills, citations, and other city regulatory actions.  We have limited control over what we hear from angry citizens, but we have many rights when it comes to things we hear or experience from fellow employees.

I rarely hear of and do not believe I have ever seen harassing behavior during the years I’ve worked here because I think most of us know what constitutes bad behavior.  Sexually explicit jokes or conversations; derogatory remarks relating to religion, gender, ethnicity or race; and threatening behavior are unacceptable in any City of Albany workplace.  Any of us who violate these standards can expect disciplinary action that could include termination of employment.  I’m reasonably certain the City Council would justifiably send me packing if they had evidence I made this mistake.

Occasionally, I hear about behavior that is questionable but may or may not cross the line.  I was working in another city a number of years ago when a department director told me he had been approached by a female coworker who complained about a fellow employee sending her flowers.  The director and I agreed that sending flowers was unacceptable workplace behavior given the context, and we counseled the offending employee that more serious discipline would follow any future violations of the City’s antiharassment policy.  We heard no further complaints, and the two employees were married less than six months after the incident. 

Context is important when judging right and wrong.  I recently took flowers to Councilor Johnson when she was ill, and I don’t think that gesture would ever be interpreted as harassment.  If I sent flowers to a fellow employee for no obvious reason, there is much more room for misinterpretation.  The best approach is to be really conservative if there is ever any doubt.  Do not say something if you think there’s a chance it will be offensive to anyone who hears it.  Do not use the workplace to pursue a romantic relationship or promote your religion.  I think we all need a sense of humor to cope with the stresses of our work, but we also need good judgment to know when and what humor is appropriate.

I have said and written many times before that I really enjoy working at the City of Albany because of the many good people I get to associate with every day.  Part of my job is making sure we are all able to enjoy that same feeling.  The City of Albany should be a safe place to work in all respects, and I hope anyone who feels their safety has been compromised will let the appropriate person or me know.