'Ask a Manager' Features Letter About Woman Who Shared Photos of Co-Worker's Stoma Bag
If you’re in the workforce and live with a chronic illness, you may choose to keep details regarding your health from your co-workers. Or, you may want to talk about your health struggles. Either way, it’s your choice — which is what makes a recent Ask the Manager letter about a co-worker who shared photos of another employee’s stoma bag so disappointing.
Ask the Manager, a popular job advice website, published a letter last week by a reader titled “Employee sent out photos of a co-worker’s stoma bag — what should I do?” The letter-writer explained that Jan, a woman who reports to the letter-writer, shared a photo of John, another co-worker who reports to the letter-writer, at home on his porch with his stoma bag visible. The letter-writer said no one at work knew he had a stoma bag.
Stoma bags are put in place after a colostomy, urostomy or ileostomy, procedures in which an opening for the bowel, urinary system or colon is created in the abdominal wall, from which waste is emptied into a pouch. The procedure is performed in some cases of severe inflammatory bowel disease or cancer.
The letter says:
The letter-writer explained that they are a lead, not a manager, so they can’t discipline Jan themselves, and their boss and the person above him are out of town for the holidays. “The issue is a mess,” they said.
Allison Green, the columnist, advised the letter-writer that “n
She recommended contacting their bosses even though they’re on vacation and letting them know the situation. If that’s not possible, the letter-writer should go to human resources, explain that they are recommending Jan be fired, and talk about possibly suspending Jan until the bosses get back since she has created a hostile work environment for John. Aside from that, John should be supported in any way he can.
We wanted to know what someone with an illness or disability should keep in mind about privacy at the workplace, so we asked The Mighty’s human resources manager, Sarah Porath, to weigh in. She said employees whose illness or disability doesn’t require accommodations are not required to tell anyone at work. It’s their choice if they inform co-workers about their condition.
For Jan, different states have different laws so her outcome could vary. But Porath said John should have reported Jan’s actions immediately to HR and/or his manager, vacation or not. Her actions were a violation of privacy and created a hostile work environment.
“Employees should be able to feel like they know who are the right people to talk to when conflicts come up,” Porath said. “Companies should have clear lines of communication so people aren’t afraid to come forward and that issues are addressed quickly.”
For a person with an ostomy, a situation like John’s can be hurtful, embarrassing and make them feel like they should be ashamed of their ostomy. Jearlean Taylor has had an ostomy bag since childhood and told The Mighty that “ostomates” deal with a lot, not just medically but emotionally and psychologically. She said she’s been at her current job for 11 years and told her boss and immediate supervisor about her ostomy when she started. Her biggest concern at first was the odor when changing her bag, but she solved that with the right deodorizer. She keeps a change of clothes and extra supplies with her at work for emergencies and encourages her co-workers to ask questions and educate themselves about ostomies.
“We deal with situations every day whether good, bad, or indifferent. We work hard not to have our focus on our ostomy, but for this situation [with John and Jan] to happen is not something we want to deal with,” Taylor said. “We come to work to do just that, not be embarrassed.“
Getty photo by ijeab