The topic of sexual harassment in the workplace (and in some cases all-out sexual assault) has become ubiquitous: From the #MeToo campaign on social media, the “Silence Breakers” featured on the cover of Time magazine as “Person of the Year,” to Hollywood’s new effort, the “Time’s Up” legal defense fund, it is impossible to escape the fact that every business across every industry is going to have to undertake a serious evaluation of sexual harassment in their workplace. And while the hammer seems to have fallen hardest thus far in the news and entertainment industries, those in the health care sector should not feel comforted by their current anonymity—the sexual harassment claims are coming to #YouToo as victims are bolstered by the newfound public awareness of the problem and a resolve to hold perpetrators accountable.

The BuzzFeed News website recently posted a study of the more the 170,000 sexual harassment claims filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) between 1995 and 2016.  For those in health care, the numbers, while not the worst of the lot, are certainly not outstanding. (note that these numbers are only EEOC reported claims and don’t include the untold thousands who have remained silent). The EEOC data shows over 3,000 claims at medical and surgical hospitals, over 1,500 at nursing care facilities, nearly 2,000 at miscellaneous ambulatory centers, and thousands more at everything from individual physician’s offices to home health care providers and medical laboratories. This data is backed up by a 2016 Journal of the American Medical Association study (JAMA), which found that nearly one-third of women in academic medical institutions reported workplace sexual harassment. 

Leaders across the health care industry must acknowledge that harassment is happening, probably right under their noses, and resolve to do something about it because it is clear that the dam of silence on this issue has broken.  The how is going to require positive steps that we plan to discuss in a series of alerts over the coming weeks.  We’ll address topics like:

  • Policies and procedures;
  • Effective communication and training;
  • Creating an inclusive environment and spotting red flags; and
  • How to handle complaints, investigations and, if necessary, litigation.  

While the stories revealed by the #MeToo movement have been shocking and troubling, they also present an opportunity to seize a teachable moment and set new, clear standards in your workplace.