Addressing the #MeToo Movement in the Healthcare Industry
Author Name: TrainingABC
Posted: 07-05-2018 01:53 AM
Synopsis: The #MeToo movement has impacted a wide swath of industries, from media and Hollywood to sports and politics. Yet one industry that hasn’t received much media attention in this era of #MeToo is the healthcare industry.
The #MeToo movement has impacted a wide swath of industries, from media and Hollywood to sports and politics. Yet one industry that hasn’t received much media attention in this era of #MeToo is the healthcare industry.
This lack of public attention, however, does not mean that sexual harassment isn’t occurring. On the contrary, the healthcare industry has its own share of problems. A BuzzFeed News investigation revealed that between 1995 and 2016, 3,085 employees at general medical and surgical hospitals filed sexual harassment claims with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Along with this, there has been litigation with severe monetary consequences. One of the largest jury awards ever for a single sexual harassment claim ($168 million) was given to a physician assistant at Catholic Healthcare West in San Francisco. This wasn’t just an anomaly: there are many other examples of substantial jury awards of over $1 million for sexual harassment claims in the healthcare industry.
Considering this, why are there many cases of sexual harassment in healthcare?
While there are several factors, the unique workplace environment leads to sexual harassment from both colleagues and patients.
First, the colleagues. Stereotypes may play some role in facilitating sexual harassment among healthcare professionals. Harassment from doctors towards nurses, for instance, may be due to the old adage of male physicians pursuing the “sexy nurse” in the office. Some also argue that healthcare is particularly susceptible to sexual harassment because of the power dynamics at play. This is because men are often in higher positions of power and they can leverage their status to take advantage of direct reports or lower-level employees. In fact, in a recent survey, 30 percent of female physicians reported having personally experienced sexual harassment by a colleague or superior.
This doesn’t acknowledge harassment that occurs from patient to healthcare worker (or from healthcare worker to patient). The patient-healthcare worker relationship requires high levels of trust. Patients may be harassed by healthcare workers and may not speak up, once again, due to the uneven power dynamics between the healthcare professional and the patient. On the flip side, healthcare workers may be sexually harassed by aggressive patients. Those healthcare workers must walk the fine line of protecting themselves while ensuring that the patient receives care, whether that’s from the same healthcare professional or someone else.
Ultimately, the status quo is troubling. The consequences are even more troubling. Notwithstanding the physical and emotional harm to the victim, sexual harassment leads to anxiety and substance abuse, impaired decision making, and employee turnover.
Considering that, what can healthcare employers do to minimize sexual harassment in the workplace?
First, it is critical to set expectations. Healthcare employers need to ensure that each and every employee understands what type of behavior constitutes sexual harassment. Whether it’s through additions to your employee handbook, additional employee training, or something else, you must define your standards and set expectations. Training is useful not only for the sexual harasser and the victim, but for bystanders, as they can identify inappropriate behavior and act accordingly.
Healthcare employers and employees need to be on the same page. While most employees will think that they know what constitutes sexual harassment, they may be gravely mistaken. Pure banter in the mind of one person may be extremely offensive to another. Along with this, it’s important for healthcare employers to explicitly describe the power dynamics that may lead to instances of sexual harassment. Physicians hold positions of power and must not abuse that power when working with nurses, patients, and other employees.
Next, healthcare employers must make it easy for employees to report instances of sexual harassment. Quite clearly, as a prerequisite, healthcare employers must care about sexual harassment in the workplace and must be ready to take action to solve any potential problems.
But assuming this is true, employers must create safe, secure methods of reporting harassment. Reporting sexual harassment is difficult in and of itself. It can be psychologically detrimental to victims since it requires them to relive the abuse. Victims may feel as if they won’t be believed and they may face internal resistance to speaking up, including fears of not being believed and fears of being punished themselves.
It takes courage to report allegations of sexual harassment. Therefore, healthcare organizations must do everything they can to facilitate the reporting process.
Often, a victim is being harassed by his or her direct supervisor. The victim, therefore, obviously needs a place where he or she can report harassment while not feeling threatened about the consequences. Whether it is an anonymous hotline, website, or something similar, the employee
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