Reader: I am a female technician in an ophthalmologist's office. Today, I had a patient who was wearing a low-cut shirt that exposed her bra and cleavage. Her arms were crossed under her breasts, pushing them up. It was so distracting that I respectfully said, "Please do not take offense, but would you mind lifting your top because it's revealing?" She laughed and apologized. Later, on break, I was talking about this incident with several co-workers. My manager overheard and told me I could be fired for saying what I said to the patient. Can I really get fired for telling the patient to fix her shirt?
Karla: Your manager could certainly fire you because he doesn’t like the way you spoke to or about a patient, as long as he doesn’t violate any federal or state discrimination laws or any employment contract you may have.
For what it’s worth, though, what you said doesn’t strike me as a firing offense. You could have made things less awkward by emphasizing her comfort, rather than your discomfort: “Oh, you might want to adjust your shirt — your bra is showing,” or (indicating her crossed arms) “Are you warm enough? Can I get you a coverup?” Otherwise, if you can’t simply ignore a patient’s attire — or facial piercings, overplucked eyebrows or other features you find distracting — you might discreetly ask a less easily rattled colleague to step in.
That said: If you suspect a patient is trying to deliberately target you with suggestive words or actions, you should bring it to your manager’s attention. Employers have a duty to provide a safe, harassment-free work environment for employees, which may include taking action against customers or clients who harass or threaten them.
Incidentally, for anyone inclined to assert that I should cut chest-ogling men some slack, since even a woman administering an ophthalmic exam couldn’t keep her focus on a buxom patient’s eyes: The “ignore or tag out” advice works for them, too.
Reader 2: On my last day of a two-week overseas vacation, a co-worker texted to alert me that our company's open enrollment period for health coverage had begun after I left and was ending hours after I was due to land stateside. I had no way to enroll from where I was. Frantic, I emailed HR, whose response was curt and final: They would not extend the deadline for me.
Fortunately, my husband was stateside. After working a graveyard shift, he spent 2 ½ hours sifting through the benefits changes and was able to complete our enrollment before the deadline.
My company gave us only eight business days to enroll. Did this violate any laws or regulations?
Karla: Employers are not legally required to set a specific minimum or maximum period for open enrollment, according to Gary Kushner, president of HR consulting and benefits administration firm Kushner & Co. To be fair, he notes, processing benefit elections before the start of a plan year takes intense effort, and late enrollees add to that burden. But, he adds, most HR professionals in his experience would probably have granted someone in your situation an extension.
Reminder: If you're not covered by employer-provided health insurance, open enrollment on Healthcare.gov for 2019 coverage is available now through Dec. 15.