In 2017, a flood of accusations against high-profile men in positions of power in Hollywood, the U.S. government, and the national media have focused the nation’s attention on sexual harassment and its consequences. The medical workplace is not immune from harassment, and the national conversation presents an opportunity for health care businesses to review their risk, policies, and prevention strategies. In a two-part series, I will review some facts about harassment, its relevance to a urology practice, and some resources to gauge your practice’s status in this regard.
Harassment in the workplace is defined as “employment discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA),” and it is unlawful (bit.ly/Harassmentdefinition). According to a 2016 report by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), sexual harassment is the most common form of harassment alleged in complaints to that agency (45%) (bit.ly/EEOCreport). It is defined by the EEOC as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature… when submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment” (bit.ly/Harassmentfacts).
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Sexual harassment is typically categorized as either “quid pro quo” (sex in exchange for favors or avoiding punishment) or a “hostile work environment.” Unwanted behavior in the first category is easy to recognize, but behavior that constitutes a “hostile work environment” may be more subjective. While the true incidence of sexual harassment is not precisely known, survey data suggest between 40% and 75% of women in the workplace have been subject to unwanted sexually based behaviors (bit.ly/EEOCreport).
The EEOC report suggests that most victims of harassment either avoid the harasser, ignore the behavior, or deny the problem; few file a complaint. These statistics suggest harassment based upon sex is common and underreported. Less common types of harassment can be based on race, disability, age, national origin, or religion.
Sexual harassment in the medical workplace is also apparently common. According to one recent article, data suggest harassment rates of 44% in all women, 59.4% of all medical trainees, and 69% of female emergency medicine residents (bit.ly/Harassmentinmedicine). Another survey-based study reports that 84% of physical therapy students and professionals had suffered sexual harassment in the course of their career, and 47% in the last year (Physical Therapy 2017; 97:1084-93). These studies do not profile the “harasser” in detail, but it is worth noting that health care workers may suffer harassment in the workplace from a patient as well as a coworker or superior.