Sexual Harassment in the Healthcare Industry

April 23, 2018

Sexual Harassment in the Healthcare Industry 150 150 Shegerian Law

There’s been a lot of focus on sexual harassment in the entertainment industry lately. These stories tend to get headlines because the harassers and victims are often household names seen on TV and in films. But, the men and women in Hollywood are far from the only victims of sexual harassment.

The Center for American Progress found that sexual harassment is a problem in all industries. The research organization also revealed that sexual harassment is most pervasive in service industries that are either male-dominated or that employ a lot of women in low-wage positions. The healthcare industry fits this description to a tee, so it’s not surprising that women in this field are finally starting to speak out about their experiences.

#MeToo in Medicine

A number of surveys have been conducted on sexual harassment in the healthcare industry. Long before the #MeToo movement, in 1994, a report was published that revealed that 70% of female nurses had been harassed by either co-workers or patients. Most of these nurses said they felt comfortable confronting patients about inappropriate behavior, but did not feel comfortable speaking out when the harasser was a co-worker. A year later, researchers conducted a study on sexual harassment in academic medicine and found that 52% of women in this field had been victimized at least once in the past.

Even though these initial findings were published over 20 years ago, women who are currently working in the field say that things have not changed. In 2016, a sexual harassment study conducted by a team of researchers at the University of Michigan Medical School was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The researchers who conducted this study found that 30% of female respondents had been sexually harassed compared to only 4% of male respondents.

Many of these victims reported the harassment, even going as far as to file complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The Center For American Progress found that nearly 12% of all sexual harassment complaints filed with the EEOC between 2005 and 2015 were from women in healthcare.

NBC News recently spoke with over a dozen women who have been sexually harassed while working in hospitals and other healthcare settings. These women, who are still working in healthcare today, say that inappropriate behavior is part of the culture since it is still a male-dominated industry. It is estimated that there are nearly twice as many male physicians as female physicians in the U.S. In California, for example, there are around 37,000 female physicians compared to 69,000 male physicians. When an industry is dominated by men, especially when the majority of upper level positions are held by men, sexual harassment tends to be more common

Being a male-dominated industry does not excuse sexual harassment. The American Medical Association has made it clear that sexual harassment is unethical and should never be tolerated in the workplace. The Code of Ethics goes one step further by calling any form of sexual relationship—even if it is consensual—unethical if it involves a medical supervisor and a trainee. Some healthcare facilities also have established confidential hotlines so employees can report any form of unethical behavior, including sexual harassment. But clearly, the leaders of the healthcare industry need to do more to put an end to sexual harassment in the workplace.

The Future of the #MeToo Movement in Healthcare

As the #MeToo movement continues to grow, it is only a matter of time before harassers in the healthcare industry are forced to face the consequences for their behavior. Sexual harassment in the healthcare industry may not garner as many headlines as the stories from Hollywood, but it is finally starting to get the attention that this matter deserves.

Plus, there are signs that the male-domination of the industry will not last forever. As a matter of fact, 2017 was the first time in history that there were more women entering medical school than men. It will be years before these students are doctors, but this indicates that the healthcare industry could experience massive changes in the future.

What to Do After Being Sexually Harassed

If you have been sexually harassed, it’s important to report the incident to your employer as soon as possible. File a complaint with your Human Resources representative so the incident is documented. Be sure to request a copy of the complaint as well. Keep this copy of the complaint safe, along with any other evidence related to the incident, including emails, text messages, and letters.

If your employer does not take action to put an end to the harassment, get in touch with an attorney right away. At this point, you have two options. Your first option is filing a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) and letting them investigate the issue. If the DFEH finds that an employer has violated your rights, they will hold your employer accountable and recover compensation on your behalf.

But, many people want to file a lawsuit right away instead of waiting for the DFEH to conduct an investigation. If you would rather handle the issue without getting the DFEH involved, you can request a right-to-sue from the DFEH instead. Once the DFEH has issued the right-to-sue, you will be allowed to file a lawsuit against your employer with the help of an attorney.

Women and men in all industries deserve to work in an environment that is free from sexual harassment. If you have been sexually harassed in the workplace, seek legal representation as soon as possible. The experienced employment law attorneys at Shegerian & Associates are ready to fight to protect your rights in the workplace. Contact us today to discuss your case by calling 1-800-GOT-FIRED.

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