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Scenario: A New Friend, Just Like the Old Friend?

John and Mary have been co-workers for years. They’ve formed a friendly, collegial bond. They greet each other with a hug every morning, and sometimes, they call each other “sweetie” or “honey.” Neither John nor Mary feels this is a hostile environment – quite the opposite.

Their department is growing, and Cindy is hired to work alongside John and Mary. John and Mary want Cindy to feel welcome. So John gives Cindy a hug every morning when she arrives, and Mary calls her “honey.” This makes Cindy uncomfortable. She doesn’t want a hug from John, and she wants Mary to address her more professionally. But she doesn’t want to seem standoffish or unfriendly.

You’re the manager over this department, and you think this might be an issue. But Cindy hasn’t spoken with you yet. It’s just a gut feeling you have. What should you do?

  1. It’s probably not a big deal. Cindy will learn to accept John’s hugs and Mary compliments. They’re just being nice; they don’t mean to be harassing.
  2. Wait until Cindy complains to you or to another supervisor or HR. Then, make sure that John and Mary stop any behavior Cindy finds offensive.
  3. Talk with John and Mary privately about how they show affection for Cindy. Remind them that not everyone feels comfortable with that level of friendliness.
  4. Talk with Cindy privately. Ask her how John and Mary make her feel. Listen to Cindy, but also try to gauge what she’s not saying.
  5. Get John, Mary, and Cindy in the same room. Hash it out among the three of them.
Remember, there is not always a clear-cut right and wrong answer, but following your companies policies and listening to complaints along with following-up appropriately is paramount.