Speakers at the 2019 American Health Lawyers Association’s Physicians and Hospitals Law Institute repeatedly emphasized the importance of a coordinated approach to preventing harassment in hospitals.
Programs at the conference reviewed the history of the #MeToo movement and its effect on hospitals and the healthcare field generally. One speaker cited Medscape’s Sexual Harassment of Physicians Report 2018, which found that more than one in ten female physicians and 16 percent of female residents have experienced sexual harassment within the past three years. This same study found that 47 percent of physicians who reported they had been sexually harassed said they were harassed by another physician. This phenomenon poses significant risks to hospitals, particularly since the EEOC reported in October 2018 that:
- Charges filed with the EEOC alleging sexual harassment increased by 13.6 percent from fiscal year 2017.
- For charges alleging harassment, reasonable cause findings increased by 23.6 percent to nearly 1,200 in FY 2018.
- The EEOC recovered nearly $70 million for the victims of sexual harassment through administrative enforcement and litigation in FY 2018, up from $47.5 million in FY 2017.
All of these figures make clear it is imperative that hospitals and other healthcare employers invest in training and a top-down approach to modeling behavior to create and maintain a workplace free from sexual and other forms of unlawful harassment.
Speakers at the conference, as well as their healthcare lawyer colleagues in the audience, repeatedly called for a collaborative approach to addressing the issue of sexual harassment in the healthcare workplace. They noted the benefit of medical staff leaders working together with human resource departments and counsel to create strong preventive practices and to promptly investigate and, where appropriate, remediate claims of sexual harassment. There also was much discussion regarding best practices for addressing misconduct by physicians who are members of a hospital’s medical staff, but are not employed by the hospital. Complaints regarding these medical staff members may be handled differently than those involving employed physicians, but they must be addressed nonetheless.
Another common theme in these presentations was the importance of reviewing and revising medical staff bylaws to incorporate anti-harassment and anti-retaliation concepts long present in personnel policies. As one speaker noted, many of these concepts already are embodied in guidance from the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education and The Joint Commission. Thus, there is a foundation for making harassment prevention an essential part of being a member of a hospital medical staff.
For more information about how to implement an effective anti-harassment program for physicians or to learn about Jackson Lewis’ EngageMD service for addressing physician conduct issues, please contact Michael Bertoncini or the member of Jackson Lewis healthcare industry team with whom you regularly work.