Can my boss make me work in an unappropriate and uncomfortable environment

I am a female massage therapist and I had a male client that ejaculated on the table linens-if not during the massage (which I don't know if that can be possible without touching "it") then after I had left the room. Obviously I was very uncomfortable with the situation and embarrassed so did not bring it up to my boss for a week. When I saw the man schedulated another appointment I finally did tell her about it and how uncomfortable I was with the situation and asked if I could not massage that client again, she said ok (I wrote a complaint about it and it is on file at work). A week later when he made an appointment again (all they did was tell him I was sick and had to cancel the apointment), I refused to massage him. After telling my boss (again) over and over how uncomfortable and upsetting the situation was becoming she refused to deny the client and told me I HAD to massage him. She never said "or else you will be fired" or anything, but I didn't know what else to think -or do. So I massaged the client again. Although nothing happened during that massage -that I know of- I was still very, very uncomfortable and still do not want to see that client again. What rights do I have to refuse a client that is making me uncomfortable with the situation above? Does my boss have a right to make me massage someone? She says I have no proof that the ejaculation ever occurred since I did not bring it to attention at the time-which is my fault- does that mean I can not do anything about this until the man does that again and I get proof? I really need help with this, it is ruining my love of proving massage therapy to people who really need it.

1 answer  |  asked Apr 1, 2002 12:24 AM [EST]  |  applies to Arizona

Answers (1)

Francis Fanning
Unwelcome conduct - a tricky question

There are two ways to look at your situation. First, I would assume that your employer has some way of dealing with massage therapist complaints about such unwanted patron problems as body odor, rudeness, refusal to cooperate with general procedures regarding privacy, dress, etc. If your employer allows massage therapists to refuse service to patrons for these reasons, your concern shouldn't be treated less seriously (although I suppose customers can be counseled about undeniable misbehaviors, whereas it would be difficult for your boss to counsel this client about your concern without some evidence).
The second way to look at the situation is to treat it as a complaint of sexual harrassment. An employee is entitled to be protected against sexual harrassment by patrons as well as by other employees. The problem is that the standard of what constitutes unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature is the standard of the "reasonable victim," in this case the "reasonable woman." While you may feel offended and intimidated by the patron's conduct, your reaction has to be measured against what a "reasonable woman" would feel. Since your supervisor is a woman, she is in a position to make her own judgment of the reasonableness of your concern. This doesn't mean you are being unreasonable, but only that reasonable minds can differ.
In calling the patron's conduct "unwanted conduct of a sexual nature," there are several factors to consider. You are operating on the assumption that he ejaculated, and you may be correct. But he apparently did nothing of a sexual nature in your presence, or at least nothing that you perceived as sexual at the time. Further, when you massaged him again, he apparently did nothing at all that you found offensive. For those reasons your supervisor could reasonably conclude that you are not being subjected to
sexual harrassment and take no further action.
Remember also that you have the right to make a complaint of sexual harrassment without being subjected to retaliation. If you are punished in any way for having made the complaint, you may want to file a charge of retaliation with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Keep in mind, however, that you may not refuse to do your job simply because you find it upsetting.

posted by Francis Fanning  |  Apr 1, 2002 3:43 PM [EST]

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