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Sexual Harassment Policy in Healthcare: Why it Matters

June 20, 2024

Workplace harassment in the healthcare industry can cause severe adverse effects on employees, the entire organization, and the quality of care received by patients. Therefore, it’s crucial for healthcare facilities to take proactive steps in preventing and addressing these incidents. Organizational leaders should prioritize ensuring that measures are in place and that healthcare workplaces are safe, inclusive, and free from any form of harassment or discrimination.

This article will cover all the necessary information about creating a written sexual harassment policy in healthcare. It will explain the significance of such a policy, outline the responsibilities and liabilities of healthcare employees in relation to sexual harassment incidents, and provide tips for drafting an effective policy for healthcare organizations.

Why a Written Policy On Sexual Harassment is Important

Healthcare workers, from physicians and nurses to administrative staff members, often work in closely and face unique challenges that can make them vulnerable to sexual assault, harassment, and other related inappropriate behaviour, such as physical assault and verbal harassment, in healthcare settings.

With the increasing diversity of the medical industry in the recent years and the understanding that sexual misconduct are not separate instances and are deeply rooted in workplace culture, the responsibility now lies in those in leadership positions to advocate for a safe environment in healthcare, from medical training to the healthcare provider’s entry to the professional workforce.

A text describing why a written sexual harassment policy is important.

A written sexual harassment policy serves as a clear and unambiguous statement of an organization’s commitment to maintaining a professional and respectful work environment. It outlines the expected behaviour of all employees, the reporting procedures for incidents, and the consequences for violations. By having a well-crafted policy in place, healthcare organizations can:

Responsibilities of Employers and Employees Regarding Sexual Harassment

Both employers and employees have the responsibility to ensure that no one will experience sexual harassment, or, if there will ever be an occurrence, victims of sexual harassment should feel that their concerns are heard, believed, and handled empathetically and sensitively.

Responsibilities of Employers

Employers have specific responsibilities when it comes to addressing and preventing sexual harassment in the workplace, which includes the following:

1) Enforce Measures to Prevent Sexual Harassment

Preventing sexual harassment should be a top priority for healthcare organizations. This can be achieved through a combination of proactive measures against sexual harassment, such as

2) Fairly Investigate the Reported Incidence of Sexual Harassment

When a report of sexual harassment is made, it is of utmost importance for the organization to carry out a comprehensive and unbiased investigation. This process should:

3) Perform Corrective Actions on the Proven Incidence of Sexual Harassment

If an investigation proves sexual harassment, the organization has to act quickly and appropriately to fix the situation. This may include:

Similarly, measures should also be taken to support employees who are falsely accused and dismiss the charges against them. In the same vein, the provider of false information should also be given the appropriate disciplinary action for such misleading complaint.

Responsibilities of Employees

Every employee has a duty to ensure a workplace free from harassment, no matter their position. This includes:

Can the Employer Be Held Liable for Sexual Harassment to and by Employees or Non-Employees?

Yes, healthcare organizations can be held legally responsible for sexual harassment incidents that occur in the workplace, regardless of whether the perpetrator is an employee, patient, or other third party. Employers have a duty of care to provide a safe and respectful work environment for all individuals who interact with the organization. Failure to take appropriate preventive and corrective measures can result in significant legal and financial consequences.

Specifically, here are instances when employers may be held liable for sexual harassment within the healthcare setting:

Tips On Creating and Enforcing an Effective Sexual Harassment Policy

Developing and implementing an effective sexual harassment policy requires a comprehensive approach. Here are some key considerations:

A list summarizing the tips on creating and enforcing an effective sexual harassment policy.

Ensure Everyone’s Involvement: Value Their Input in the Preparation and Drafting of the Written Policy

Engage employees at all levels of the organization, including frontline staff, supervisors, and management, in the process of creating the sexual harassment policy. Solicit their feedback and incorporate their perspectives to ensure the policy resonates with the workforce and addresses their concerns.

Ensure that the Written Policy Complies With the Requirements of Canadian Labour Standards

The Canadian Labour Standards mandate that employers craft a sexual harassment policy which contains at least the key elements, such as:

Study the Content and Enforcement of Exemplary Policies

In 2021, an analysis of the sexual health policy created and enforced by top medical institutions in the US has shown that most of such policies are inadequate in terms of standardization and specific provisions on sexual harassment from patients toward healthcare providers.

Knowing this, it will be beneficial if medical institutions research and learn from the best practices of other healthcare organizations that have successfully implemented comprehensive sexual harassment policies. Analyze their content, enforcement strategies, and the outcomes they have achieved.

Notify Everyone About the Written Policy

Ensure that all employees, including new hires, are made aware of the sexual harassment policy and understand their rights and responsibilities. Prominently display the policy in common areas and include it in employee handbooks and training materials.

Providing regular sexual harassment training will also help in refreshing the memory of the employees and facilitate the encouragement of bystander complaints. This will also surely contribute to ensuring that the facility won’t be a hostile work environment to render their services with.

Consistently Review and Update the Written Policy

Regularly review and update the sexual harassment policy to ensure it remains relevant and effective. Incorporate feedback from employees, changes in legislation, and evolving best practices in the industry.

Create an ideal work environment for the best healthcare professionals with Caring Support.

Fostering a Respectful and Safe Healthcare Workplace With Caring Support

Creating and enforcing a robust sexual harassment policy is a critical responsibility for healthcare organizations. Truly, upholding a safe, inclusive, and professional work environment is important for healthcare organizations to safeguard their employees, patients, and the reputation of the medical field.

At Caring Support, we're dedicated to providing effective solutions that can help address the unique challenges of the healthcare sector. We're committed to working together with healthcare organizations to create a safer, more respectful workplace for all. Contact us today to learn more why partnering with Caring Support is beneficial for your healthcare team.

About The Author
Cam Adajar
Content Writer

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