Sexual Harassment in Doctors’ Offices and Healthcare
The recent release of Athlete A, a documentary focused on the gymnasts who endured sexual abuse from USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, reveals just what a serious issue sexual harassment in doctors’ offices and the healthcare field in general, and the emotional damage that those perpetrators can inflict on their victims.
Sexual harassment has unfortunately been an issue in healthcare for far too long. As pointed out by Harvard Business Review, medicine has all three elements of what makes an entity prone to sexual harassment: A climate that tolerates transgressions, a hierarchical structure, and a male-dominated environment.
How Serious is the Problem?
Academic medicine in particular has the highest rate of both gender and sexual harassment, where 30% to 70% of female physicians and half of all female medical students report being sexually harassed. Before they can even begin their careers as doctors, they will be subjected to an emotionally and physically damaging experience that can have a lasting impact on their lives.
The issue affects not only a number of doctors and medical students, but other employees, as well. According to a survey conducted by Medcape, 11% of nurses, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners had experienced sexual harassment ranging from leering, to sexual comments, to offering promotions in exchange for sexual favors. According to this same survey, almost half of the perpetrators were physicians, more than half never reported the issue, and almost 80% of those who stayed silent were residents.
Sexual Harassment Violates New Jersey Anti-Discrimination Law
In some cases, employers have fired the employee for refusing their advances. In these cases, sexual harassment is actually a form of discrimination based on sex/gender, which means that employment discrimination issues are also often involved. Not only do employees often face retaliation for reporting sexual harassment, but significant emotional harm, as well.
Employers who engage in sexual harassment not only create a hostile work environment, but also violate the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination by engaging in harassment, discriminatory intimidation, and retaliation by firing employees when they refuse to respond in a particular way to their sexually inappropriate advances. In addition, a single act of harassment can be sufficient to constitute an unlawful act.
Retaliation After Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
Employees should not have to fear speaking out against harassment. It is illegal for any employer to terminate, discipline, or otherwise retaliate against an employee who reports, complains, files a charge, or participates in an investigation regarding sexual harassment. This applies to both internal and EEOC claims. If you complained about harassment and were fired, denied privileges, or demoted as a result, you may be able to file a separate sexual harassment retaliation charge.
N.J.S.A. §10:5-12(d); Craig v. Suburban Cablevision, Inc., 140 N.J. 623, 639-630 (1995).
Employers’ Responsibility to Ensure a Safe Work Environment
As with a number of other industries, the #MeToo movement has brought attention to this issue in the medical field, and the need for reform. Employers in healthcare have a number of legal responsibilities when it comes to preventing, detecting, and remedying sexual harassment in order to ensure a safe work environment. This includes ensuring that there is a zero-tolerance policy which includes written protocols and a:
- Prominently placed patients’ rights statement
- Training program
- System and methodology in place that allows for patients to report their complaints
- Means of educating everyone regarding what is harassment and what will not be tolerated
- Quick response to any and all reported incidents that includes a thorough, unbiased investigation which goes through HR and is kept confidential
- Range of sanctions that are appropriate based on the behavior involved and consistently, equally applied to all staff
If You Have Experienced Sexual Harassment by a Healthcare Provider, Contact Our New Jersey Sexual Harassment Attorneys
If you have been the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace as an employee, contact the dedicated sexual harassment and retaliation recovery attorneys of McOmber McOmber & Luber today to find out how we can help ensure that these wrongs committed against you are addressed.
For more information, please call our offices in Red Bank, New Jersey at 732-842-6500, in Marlton, New Jersey at 856-985-9800, or in Newark, New Jersey at 973-878-9040.