Sexual harassment in the workplace is an unfortunate reality for many employees. Harassment can happen in every type of workplace, including professional settings. Pediatric practices are somewhat unique workplaces. Often, only a few colleagues work together in a small and intimate office space. Something as subtle as a doctor brushing against a staff member while navigating a tight office workspace can rise to the level of being perceived as inappropriate contact. Leering or staring at a staff member and commenting on their attire can also be unwelcoming and upsetting. These are not harmless acts and may even be considered harassment.
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), harassment is unlawful where conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create an intimidating, hostile, or abusive work environment. The EEOC can investigate workplaces having at least 15 employees pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, certain states also have sexual harassment laws to protect employees that may not be covered by the EEOC.
Effective Pediatric Office Programs
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) encourages pediatricians and their practices to be proactive in their approach, emphasize prevention, and have well-established procedures in place for responding to claims. The AAP provides guidelines regarding sexual harassment and setting appropriate boundaries with patients.
The AAP recommends pediatric practices develop a written policy to state acceptable behavior and establish at least one procedure, involving a neutral investigator, to respond to sexual harassment complaints. It is important for the policy to include a statement banning any sort of retaliation against someone for filing a complaint. Employees should feel safe bringing their concerns to the attention of leadership. The policy should also have an appeal process.
Meeting Challenges in Small Office Settings
Small office settings can make it difficult to implement an effective sexual harassment policy. The emphasis should be on encouraging employees to raise concerns early. Before drawing conclusions or implementing discipline, an investigator should perform a thorough and complete investigation. For small office settings, it may be appropriate or even necessary to use an outside investigator. This should be someone who demonstrates that they are neutral and sensitive to the discomfort staff may feel in disclosing details of the harassment.
When harassment is alleged, concerns should be addressed immediately, and responses should be appropriate to the circumstances. Any specific requirements stated in the policy regarding recordkeeping, protecting confidentiality, and disciplinary procedures should be met.
Philadelphia Physician Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Advocate for the Rights of Health Care Professionals
If you are a health care professional that has experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, or you have another issue pertaining to your profession, the Philadelphia physician lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. can help. We represent clients throughout Philadelphia, including the areas of Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, and Montgomery County. Get started with a free confidential consultation today by calling us at 215-569-1999 or submit an online contact form.