Urgent message: Recent high-profile sexual harassment allegations in Hollywood and Washington beg the question as to whether urgent care operators should proactively adopt a policy addressing sexual harassment.

Alan Ayers, MBA, MAcc is Chief Executive Officer of Velocity Urgent Care and is Practice Management Editor of The Journal of Urgent Care Medicine.

The #MeToo movement has been sweeping the nation as of late, impacting Hollywood and Washington, DC in immense ways. However, the push against sexual harassment in the workplace is not limited to movie stars and politicians. Unfortunately, sexual harassment is a growing and already serious problem in America’s workplace. Although the healthcare industry differs from most other industries in many ways, it’s not immune to this plague. Whether it is doctors, administrators, or any other staff member, sexual harassment is an issue that needs to be addressed in healthcare facilities.

According to a survey done by the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) in December 2017, 84% of hospitals that responded have a policy specifically addressing sexual harassment. The remaining 16% either did not have a policy or were unsure. Likewise, the Association for Talent Development (ATD) conducted a survey that concluded that approximately 71% of companies in other industries have a similar policy. This difference reflects the higher standards that the healthcare industry holds itself to, due to the critical nature of the services provided. Despite a higher percentage of facilities with a specific sexual harassment policy than other industries, however, healthcare still needs to make progress.

Medicine is a field unlike any other. Separated by job titles, longer shifts, and cooperation between countless teams, it poses significant challenges for administrators and managers. The position of physicians is especially precarious. They have much more in-depth education than their counterparts, meaning they make significantly more money and generally are more highly regarded in society. This puts them in a position of power inside of the clinical environment.

Being in a position of power such as this is very similar to the status system in Hollywood. An individual with power may feel entitled to behave inappropriately or try to force other employees to, resulting in an unsafe and humiliating workplace. However, physicians are significantly outnumbered by other employees on the floor such as nurses, secretaries, and janitorial staff. The physician is also the bottleneck for nearly everything going on in the clinical setting. Being outnumbered in this way and interacting with many types of staff on a constant basis puts physicians at risk for being targeted by lower-level staff in sexual assault allegations. Whether or not they were involved in the act, the discrepancy between the various types of employees in the urgent care setting puts the physician in a vulnerable position. With this high-risk environment, it is even more important to put measures in place that prevent sexual harassment cases.

With the national spotlight on the topic, urgent care operators should take the opportunity to conduct training and put new policies in place to educate and emphasize a zero-tolerance policy regarding sexual harassment in the workplace.

In a field that is already fast-paced and stressful, healthcare employees should not have to worry about being put in an inappropriate situation or worry about being accused because they are in a position of power.

The same survey from MGMA also asked respondents to include how their employer approached sexual harassment training. Most responses said their training was included in new-employee orientation, while others said that it was either covered in staff meetings or by an online course.

Although receiving such training is a good thing, education is not the only way to prevent sexual harassment cases in the healthcare setting. Urgent care administrators and employees should keep in mind other ways to help stop and prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.

Investigating and addressing complaints immediately and providing employees a safe way to file a complaint without fear of negative retaliation against them is a good start. Another method is to have employees that choose to enter a romantic relationship with another employee sign a consensual agreement form to ensure both parties have given consent and to protect everyone from being accused should the relationship end poorly.

In today’s world, it is important that everyone in the workplace, not just managers, play a part and have a voice in creating a safe environment free of sexual harassment.

For more information, see Protecting the Urgent Care Center from Sexual Harassment Claims in the April 2010 issue of JUCM, which won a 2011 Gold Award in the Best How to Article category from the American Society of Healthcare Publications (ASHPE).

Preventing Sexual Harassment in the Urgent Care Workplace

Alan A. Ayers, MBA, MAcc

President of Experity Consulting and is Practice Management Editor of The Journal of Urgent Care Medicine
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