8 Tips for Handling Inappropriate Advances at Work

July 30, 2013 — 1 Comment

Recently the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that it was not illegal for a dentist to fire a dental assistant who had worked for him for 10 years because she was too attractive. The court ruled that the “irresistible attraction” was not discrimination because as Justice Edward Mansfield stated the issue was motivated by feelings and emotions not gender. I am not a lawyer and therefore can only comment that I am shocked by the decision of the court that gender discrimination was not present. I am not shocked that in the battle of owner versus employee who had to go. The question is what cost should have been paid for the termination?


I work with many dental hygienists and know that dental offices are notorious for drama as well as marriages between different cast members – whether they be dentist, dental hygienist, dental assistance, receptionists etc.. In such personal service businesses, there are times when you are left with no alternative but to seek alternative employment if you are not working for a large organization with a human resources department to assist you. 

But Dental Hygienists are not the only ones who experience such stressors. While interviewing a number of high-achieving women for a book I am writing, I have discovered that workplace bullying, yelling, and sexual advances are more common than uncommon as perceived by the women.  If you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation seek help.

Keeping yourself safe should be your priority. If you find yourself being the subject of such advances or inappropriate behaviour try these tips.

1.      Trust yourself. If you are feeling uncomfortable there is a reason for it.

2.      Check yourself to make sure you are coming across as professional in your appearance and communication. Think about your conversations and at your wardrobe to see if you are conducting yourself in a professional manner.

3.      If you have a human resources department where you can speak confidentially approach them with your concerns. Don’t wait until the situation gets worse. If there is no action with the human resources department or there is not one available to you then…

4.      Invest in a good labour lawyer early in the process to give you guidance on how to respond to your boss and what legal resources you have available to you. Talking to the lawyer doesn’t mean you are going to court. It can prepare you to recognize and respond to those uncomfortable feelings. Preparation is critical in how you proceed so you do not destroy your career or end up becoming a victim of slander or assault.

5.      If you are in a situation that is making you feel uncomfortable, tell the other person that you are feeling uncomfortable and would like to keep your relationship on a professional level. You can even tell the person that you have a rule to not get involved with anyone at work.

6.      Say no in a calm, conversational, and assertive way (even if you feel like mush on the inside) and not aggressively or confrontationally. 

7.      Look for an appropriate time to have a conversation regarding your discomfort. For example, when your co-workers are nearby but not in the immediate vicinity and when clients are not expected. If your boss is already in a bad mood defer your conversation if you can.

8.      Don’t let the situation brew until you begin experiencing ill health due to the stress. Ask your lawyer for advice on how to leave the position. Channel the energy from that stress into seeking another job quietly by making some phone calls or networking with colleagues and alerting them that you are seeking a new challenge. Do not disparage your employer it may come back to haunt you.

Whether your workplace is large or small – intimate or industrial…  Remember to trust your gut. If you are feeling uncomfortable figure out why and talk to someone about your situation confidentially. While a lawyer may seem excessive or expensive, in the long run the advice you get could save your career and your health.

Dr Susan Ziebarth


One response to 8 Tips for Handling Inappropriate Advances at Work

  1. Hi Susan,

    Your post really helped me to understand Handling Inappropriate Advances at Work. It has great details and yet it is easy to understand.
    That’s what i was looking for. I will definitely share it with others.

    Thanks for sharing.

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