Everything is Discoverable in Business and at Work

It’s just past Halloween and Election Day is this Tuesday: fodder for fond memories as well as new merriment thanks to the ironic juxtaposition of Halloween and Election Day, so perfectly illustrated by Opus in Berkeley Breathed’s sorely missed comic strip, Bloom County, as he went door-to-door campaigning for elected office and was mistaken for a trick-or-treater (because of course, he was a penguin in a 1920’s straw hat).  “AWRIGHT…WHO PUT ELECTION DAY SO CLOSE TO HALLOWEEN?!”

Congressman Paul Tonko and other local elected representatives stopped by the annual Schenectady BPW Fashion Show Fundraiser today to extend their best wishes to the Schenectady BPW Woman of the Year honoree, Union College Graduate School President Dr. Laura Schweitzer. Shortly after my senior-semester college internship with the New York state Assembly at the beginning of my career, I used to sit with Paul in the Assembly Chamber when a debate over a bill took hours, and Paul’s witty, educational and spot-on observations and stories about the legislative process would help pass the time as I patiently (and hopefully) waited to write a press release on its passage.  Paul exemplified what we all learned during that rich internship experience: do your own negative research first, before the press did it for you. Paul’s reputation thereof has served him, and the residents of his district, well.

In a story published in the Albany, NY Times Union this past Friday, October 31st (Halloween), it’s clear that Schenectady City Council Candidate Bob Barnes could take a page or two from Paul’s career path, particularly in the timing of his September 29, 2014 alleged misconduct in his workplace so close to Election Day:

Albany, NY

Gail Babb said she was so traumatized by a state Office of Children and Family Services co-worker comparing her to an orangutan that she froze up and started to shake before regaining her composure in the middle of the office.

The allegations by Babb, who is African-American, against her colleague, Bob Barnes, a Schenectady City Council candidate who is white, are detailed in an employee complaint with the OCFS’ Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity Development, which was obtained by the Times Union.

In it, Babb, a manager in the OCFS contract management bureau, who is legally blind in her right eye and can barely see in the other one, alleges she was speaking with a male employee on September 29 in the cubicle across from Barnes’ when he announced that “we named you employee of the day and put your picture up here,” as he pointed to a blurry picture in what she described as “dark and medium brown tones.”

It wasn’t until she got closer to the photo and was about four inches away that Babb, 56, said she discovered it was “some type of ape hanging from a tree” or “may have been an orangutan.”

“I became so embarrassed and humiliated that I had problems articulating my thoughts,” the complaint states. “I did say out loud without shouting that I did not find it funny and that I do not play like that.”

Babb said she went to her office and wrote an email with the subject line, “SO WE ARE CLEAR” to Barnes “explaining why I did not appreciate that joke and warning him never to do it again.”

She copied the email, which was sent to Barnes at 2:22 p.m. on Sept. 29, to a representative Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity Development. Five minutes later at 2:27 p.m., Barnes responded by saying, “I am sorry I did not intend to offend you.”

Barnes subsequently denied the allegation last Friday (Halloween); and then reported that he is now under a gag order.

When I conduct harassment awareness training, I will often share stories such as the one above, drawing a bright line for participants in the training that they should monitor and refrain from questionable conduct;  and if they’re not sure what questionable conduct is, the reality-check is the newspaper check: would you feel comfortable reading about your personal conduct in the newspaper? More often then not, imposing a gag order on yourself proactively will save you legal and reputational headaches in the long run.

Additionally, Barnes’s alleged conduct is textbook intent vs. impact:  legally, the impact of harassing / discriminatory / illegal behavior on those harmed by that behavior is all that matters, not the intent of the person who caused the harm by their harassing / discriminatory / illegal behavior.

And in this age of instantaneous information thanks to individuals’ mobile devices, all workplace behavior – good and bad, legal and illegal – is immediately discoverable and subject to public and press scrutiny.

How will you ensure that the discoverable actions of you and your team are always fit for print, in business and at work?


Paul & Dr. Laura

(Left) Congressman Paul Tonko and Dr. Laura Schweitzer at the 38th Annual Schenectady BPW Fashion Show Fundraiser, demonstrating reputation-building done right.


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