3 ways practices can protect themselves against sexual harassment complaints

Female nurse looking stressed
It's not enough to simply have a policy on sexual harassment. (Getty/gpointstudio)

Last week, two top leaders at a Massachusetts health center were forced to resign after they mishandled complaints of sexual harassment from employees made against a prominent doctor.

Headlines such as those and the #MeToo movement have brought the issue of sexual harassment to the forefront. A poll conducted earlier this month by the Medical Group Management Association found 84% of 1,237 practice leaders said their organization has a policy on sexual harassment. Only 12% did not have a specific policy and another 4% were unsure, according to the MGMA.

But while a policy is a first step to helping practices deal with issues related to harassment, it’s not enough, attorney Judith Holmes, cofounder of The Compliance Clinic LLC in Golden, Colo., told the MGMA. To protect themselves, practices should also take the following steps:

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  • Train leaders on how to handle harassment complaints and make sure they understand the potential liability from not following practice policy, Holmes said. Also train staff so they are aware of your policy. Make training mandatory for everyone in your organization, including busy physicians.

RELATED: Second health center leader steps down for mishandling of sexual harassment, bullying complaints

  • Create a work environment where it is clear harassment is not tolerated. Do not put up with bad behavior that can create a toxic environment, Holmes said. Otherwise, your practice may see high turnover rates and low employee morale.
  • Act quickly if you see warning signs of a potential problem from someone in your practice, Will Latham, a consultant from Chattanooga, Tenn., told the MGMA. Watch for signs such as someone making degrading comments or inappropriate jokes. Confront any behavior right away and make it clear you will not tolerate disruptive or abusive behavior.

While those working in healthcare can feel the effects of stress and burnout, practice leaders should not allow that to be used as an excuse for bad behavior.

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