Four strategies to prevent sexual harassment in your practice

Jun 19, 2018

Clear policies and compliance training will help keep harassment from happening.

Sexual harassment is common, costly, and transcends all professions and trades. In the first article in this two-part series (“Medical field no stranger to sexual harassment”), I outlined the definition and incidence of sexual harassment. In this article, I will describe some strategies to prevent it from happening in the first place. Also included are tools and resources. This article is based largely on a recent report by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and recommendations contained therein (bit.ly/EEOCreport). 

Prevention strategy 1:Build and sustain a culture of leadership and accountability. Examples include:

  • Identify and address risk factors for sexual harassment (see part 1 of series).
  • Conduct a formal survey of your workplace (see bit.ly/Harassmentquestionnaire).
  • When harassment occurs, disciplinary action should be prompt, consistent, and proportionate.
  • Hold managers accountable for preventing harassment.

Also by Dr. Dowling: How will regulatory changes affect EHR use in your practice?

Prevention strategy 2:Develop and maintain anti-harassment policies and procedures. The policy should:

  • describe examples of behavior that constitute sexual harassment and those that do not
  • specify that employees will be protected from retaliation for reporting incidents and cooperating with an investigation
  • describe the complaint, reporting, and investigation process
  • use simple and easy-to-understand language
  • address the use of social media in the context of harassment
  • avoid zero tolerance or one-size-fits-all disciplinary approaches
  • include a workable reporting system.
  • For an example, see bit.ly/Policysample.

Prevention strategy 3:Compliance training. Training should:

  • describe the company policies, including but not limited to examples of prohibited conduct
  • describe the complaint and reporting process
  • offer examples of permissible conduct (that is not harassment)
  • meet legal requirements for employer nondiscrimination laws
  • include additional training for managers and supervisors
  • be conducted by qualified trainers
  • be performed regularly and evaluated for effectiveness.

There are many resources available for training-try searching “sexual harassment compliance training” on Google and YouTube.

Next:Specialized trainingPrevention strategy 4: Specialized training. The EEOC report calls out two types of training that may be effective in preventing harassment in the workplace:

Workplace civility training. According to the EEOC, this focuses on “establishing expectations of civility and respect in the workplace, and on providing management and employees the tools they need to meet such expectations. The beauty of workplace civility training is that it is focused on the positive-what employees and managers should do, rather than on what they should not do. In addition, by appealing to all individuals in the workplace, regardless of social identity or perceived proclivity to harass, civility training might avoid some of the resistance met by interventions exclusively targeting harassment.” For more, see bit.ly/EEOCtrainingprogram.

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Bystander intervention training. This is a tool commonly employed on campuses to prevent violent sexual assault that addresses the empowerment of witnesses and bystanders. The EEOC recommends its potential inclusion in other workplace environments’ training programs. For more, see a list of available programs compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at bit.ly/Preventionstrategies.

Bottom line: Prevention is the most powerful strategy to address sexual harassment in the workplace. Whether you are a practice owner, employer, employee, or a medical staff member in a hospital, you should be aware of the potential for sexual harassment in the medical workplace and the effective methods of prevention.