March 31, 2017
Three years ago during a wedding reception, a drunk groomsman grabbed my butt. I don’t mean an accidental brush-by that happens on a crowded dance floor, I mean a full-on, intentional hand grab. The entire wedding day was incredibly stressful – a constant downpour of rain that had everyone scrambling to move inside, high tensions between family members and general negativity. It was a challenging wedding from the start; by the time the reception was in full swing, I was exhausted! Standing on the crowded dance floor, he grabbed me from behind. I told him to never touch me again (he was laughing) and the entire scene created enough commotion to draw attention from the bride and groom. I moved to the other side of the dance floor where the bride told me, “I’m sorry about him, I told him he should’ve asked first.”
Right. The problem was him not asking first. (Eye roll.)
I left that wedding disgusted, discouraged, and wondering if I should send my husband back to kick some ass. I cried on the way home and seriously considered never shooting a wedding again – it wasn’t worth it. For a few days afterward, I wondered what I could’ve done differently. I felt a little guilty that it caused a disruption, but in a sea of drunk guests there was no one to look out for me, not even a second photographer. Feeling guilty about the commotion meant I ranked my own safety and comfort below this groomsman’s desire to do whatever he felt like doing. As small business owners, there is no Human Resources department to file a complaint with. There’s nothing protecting us from sexual harassment on the job. There’s no corporate policies in place with consequences for offenders. I had no idea what to do to keep this from happening again and I couldn’t find a single resource on any blog, website or forum with advice from another wedding professional. There’s no way I could be the only one who’s ever been in this situation.
My contract now contains an Appropriate Conduct clause. I review it with every single client before they book and they have to initial under it saying they understand. A wedding isn’t just a celebration, it’s also my work environment. There are certain risks involved in every part of the day but especially during the reception when bottomless alcohol impedes judgement. It’s not just “part of the job” and it’s not something you just have to tolerate. Not as a professional and certainly not as a woman. Nope. So much nope.
Here’s what my contract says – wedding professionals, I highly encourage you to add something similar to your own contract. No, it’s not bulletproof. It doesn’t guarantee things like a butt-grab won’t ever happen to you. But it does protect your decision to leave, it does inform your clients what will happen if you feel compromised, and it provides a clear expectation of appropriate behavior throughout the wedding day:
Appropriate Conduct: All parties involved in the event, including but not limited to the client, fellow vendors, the bridal party, and all guests, are expected to behave in a manner that provides the photographer a safe and comfortable work environment. Excessive drunkenness, disorderly conduct, inappropriate language or touching, violence of any kind, and any other behavior that compromises the safety or well-being of the photographer or photography equipment will not be tolerated. The first offense will result in a verbal warning to the offending person and notification to the client. A second offense and the client agrees to remove the offending person for the remainder of the event. If the offending person does not leave, all photography coverage will end immediately with no refund given to the client for any coverage not completed. The photographer will not be held responsible for a lapse in the quality of work as a result of feeling compromised.
Thankfully, nothing like this has happened since. Flirtatious groomsmen are a norm at most weddings, but once the line is crossed, there’s no reason for you to feel helpless and unprepared. Get this in your contract today – you’ll be glad you did.