We came across plenty of horrifying incidents as we researched and reported this month's cover story on surgeons sexually harassing nurses. Some of what you'll read in "Sexual Misconduct in Today's ORs" on page 24 may be unpleasant and disturbing. We reported the problem in such detail not to shock or to sensationalize, but to get the problem out in the open, away from the friendly confines of the OR, where, as one manager told us, "surgeons think it's a place where nobody will know and nobody will tell."
Our reader survey, which drew 150 responses, found that 60 percent of nurses have been sexually harassed in the surgical workplace, most often by a surgeon. That alarmingly high figure drives home the point that, yes, sexual misconduct is a major problem in some surgical facilities. It also sounds the alarm that such behavior is far too permissive, that some administrators may be sending staff who complain of unwelcome pats on the back a signal to (no pun intended) turn the other cheek.
Here's a cold, hard slap in the face if that's your view of sexual harassment: Administrators who don't promptly investigate allegations of sexual harassment and rid their ORs of the offensive behavior or the offending surgeon are not only poor managers and willing co-conspirators but lawsuits waiting to happen, too. And it's not the surgeon who's likely to be sued, but the facility for failing to provide a secure environment for its employees.
That's because sexual harassment is a form of employment discrimination that is prohibited by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The law imposes certain burdens on employers. A sexual harassment policy is the best way to safeguard your staff and protect your facility. Simply having one is not enough, says Deborah Krohn, Esq., RN, of Towson, Md., a nurse-attorney and a partner in the law firm of Siegel & Krohn, P.C. Her tips for giving your policy muscle:
- Disseminate the policy so that everyone knows you're serious about protecting your employees.
- Make sure the policy encourages staff to report sexual misconduct without any fear of retribution.
- Enforce your policy. Once an incident is reported, an investigation should ensue. If sexual harassment is found to have occurred, action should be sure and swift.