Healthcare News & Insights

Is there a Weinstein in your hospital? Dealing with sexual harassment

Recently, sexual harassment claims have become widespread, and every industry is dealing with the fallout. The ideal world would be one with no harassment claims, but we’re not there yet. If your hospital gets hit with one, it’s essential to be prepared – and make sure everyone involved feels supported. 

Every organization should have a sexual harassment policy, but making sure it’s consistent and helpful in the case of a complaint is key.

Clarity is also important. There should be no surprises for either the person bringing the claim or the accused about the process they’ll go through.

Prevention strategies

But the ultimate goal should be preventing harassment before it occurs. Physicians’ Practice offers three recommendations:

  1. In meetings, make sure there’s a witness who’s the same gender as the employee. This is especially important in cases where a reprimand, discipline or termination is involved.
  2. When possible, have a woman in the room (e.g., a nurse or medical assistant) if a male doctor is performing an exam, and vice versa. Patients may feel more comfortable if someone else is in the room, especially if the exam or treatment involves breasts or genitals. And if possible, if a patient requests a provider of a specific gender, honor that request.
  3. Create a positive, harassment-free culture. Pay attention to comments being made in the cafeteria or break rooms, and call out employees who may be making others feel uncomfortable. If suggestive or inappropriate comments are being made, shut them down, and make it clear to others they should feel empowered to do the same.

Training employees about how to recognize sexism and sexual harassment when it occurs can also go a long way toward preventing upsetting incidents. Inappropriate jokes or conversations about sex might make others feel uncomfortable, even if that’s not the intent.

When harassment happens

If a harassment claim is made, first remember: Be aware of how difficult it is for someone to come forward about abuse or harassment they’re receiving. Don’t punish people for coming forward, and take every allegation seriously.

Many female doctors experience sexual harassment at some point during their careers, and those experiences can contribute to burnout. Male clinicians can also experience sexual harassment. Provide an open space for complaints and conversation, and allow people to share their concerns without judgment.

Harassment and a negative culture can drive valuable employees out of your organization and affect your hospital’s public perception. No one wants to work in a toxic environment, and patients don’t want to be cared for in one, either. So make it clear where your facility stands, and what will and won’t be tolerated. That way, everyone can feel safe and comfortable.

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