Sexual Harassment and the Work Place
Today I want to talk to you about something that has been dominating the headlines the last few months, sexual harassment and sexual assault. Ever since I have been old enough to work, during orientation and training for every job I had spent at least a couple hours going over their sexual harassment policy. Defining what is harassment, what is an assault and what the consequences would be should I (or any employee) sexually harass or assault a co-worker. Due to the fact that every job I started reviewed their sexual harassment policy the moment their new employees that came on board, I assumed that the violations of these policies were few and far between because I never heard about them. I figured it was more of a problem for my parents’ generation.
They were the generation that created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 1965, changing the content of all employee handbooks as part of the civil rights movement. Forty years later when I started working and having to listen to multiple sexual harassment seminars, I assumed that now it was a minor problem. I assumed my generation and generations behind me would have to sit in these seminars to learn the mistakes of our parents and grandparents so that we wouldn’t cross that line amongst each other. I assumed sexual harassment and assault in the work place was a terrible tragedy that rarely happened. I was wrong.
In 2016 we saw a number of female news anchors disappear from the Fox news channel and there were rumors that these women were filing sexual harassment and assault charges against the CEO Roger Ailes. I found this extremely shocking because there were a great number of them and it broke my heart for these women. These women obviously worked really hard to get where they were, and undoubtedly they wouldn’t bring false accusations that would ruin their careers. These were big names for Fox News who brought in a lot of viewers and the fact that so many of them were bringing charges on him had a ring of truth and blew my mind.
Little did I know this was just the tip of iceberg because before 2016 was over allegations were brought against Bill O’Reilly, and documents were released that Fox News paid nearly half a dozen women $50 million to settle the harassment charges without going to court. Money talks, and when I saw that report I knew what he did to those women was more than sexual harassment.
In the beginning of 2017 Harvey Weinstein was accused of sexually harassing and assaulting multiple actresses. He was the domino that sent the rest of Hollywood tumbling down. There are now dozens of actors and producers that are being accused of sexual harassment and assault, and its causing huge waves all across our country. With these changing tides many of us are asking, “How do we heal and move forward?”
A number of my male colleagues and friends are worried because they are second-guessing themselves and decisions they have made. They wonder if some of the “compliments” they have given to women they know and work with made these women feel uncomfortable or threatened. I have even met a few men who claim they are too frightened to say anything to women because they don’t want to find themselves loosing their jobs or in a lawsuit. I can understand their fears, the last thing any man wants to be described as is a creep or a sexual offender. It carries a stigma around you for the rest of your life that you will never be able to shake off. However, vowing off giving any compliments to your colleagues is too extreme.
The best way for us to heal and move forward is first we need to talk about it. Something I tell my male colleagues is, if you want to give an innocent compliment then give it.
“You look pretty today.”
“Your hair looks nice.”
“Have you lost weight?”
If there is doubt in your mind if that will offend your female colleague then ask her if those compliments bother her. To the majority of the women I know they appreciate those compliments.
The kinds of “compliments” you don’t want to give would be anything too specific, especially if it has anything to do with their breasts, waist or butt. These are the kinds of compliments that make people uncomfortable.
“Looks like the ladies are coming out to play.”
“Your butt looks great in that skirt.”
“I wouldn’t want to be around you in that outfit with a couple of drinks in me”.
Sexual harassment can come from a number of different directions, including from your patients. The obvious comments or actions are things we all know about; however, we do not always know what will cause someone to feel uncomfortable. Some thing that may be a simple compliment to one person can be offensive to another.
Let’s look at ways to protect everyone in your office, including and especially the doctor.
We’ve known for years that male doctors should never see a female patient alone (typically emergencies during off hours). Consider taking this to the next level by never allowing the doctor to be in the operatory alone with a patient at all.
Do not allow patients in an operatory with a closed door with only one employee.
If at any time you are uncomfortable excuse yourself from the situation and let somebody know immediately.
Document the situation: if it’s a patient harassing an employee write it in their chart; if the harassment is one employee to another notify the doctor.
If unfortunately it is the doctor harassing an employee, speak up immediately. You must report the harassment to a person of authority to the office before filing a complaint with the EEOC.
Have a team word or phrase that anyone uses to stop whatever is making them feel uncomfortable. Everyone has a different level of being offended; let’s embrace that and make sure all employees understand when to stop.
Create a safe haven for your office. All patients and employees deserve to feel safe in your office, so create that environment.
Sexual harassment is not limited to men harassing women. Women can harass women, men can harass men and women can harass men. If someone is harassing or assaulting you or someone in your practice don’t just stay silent. When you stay silent and that harasser is going to harass another person. The behavior will continue its vicious cycle and only get worse. The best thing you can do is stand up and stop the harasser for yourself, your coworkers and your patients. Have a policy in place and review with all new employees and your team routinely.
If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org