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Sexual Harassment In The Health Care Setting

On Behalf of | Apr 24, 2015 | Sexual Harassment

Professional nursing groups pay attention to issues related to sexual assault and harassment in the medical workplace. Organizations such as the American Nursing Association offer training to members to help nurses and other health care professionals prevent sexual assault. The need for this should not be surprising, as health care professionals are victims of more than half of all workplace violence incidents, including incidents of sexual assault and rape, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Other studies illustrate the vulnerability of nursing professionals. One study in Washington state showed that 11 percent of victims of workplace rape were nurses. Other studies show that nursing professionals live with the threat of violence and sexual assault every day. One revealed that 63 percent reported sexual threats and even more reported physical violence of all types, including sexual assault.

California No Different From U.S.

When It Comes To Sexual Harassment California is no different from the rest of the nation when it comes to sexual assault and harassment in the workplace. According to Cal/OSHA, there were around 5,000 incidents of workplace violence in California health care settings between 2010 and 2012, including those involving sexual assault. Officials believe this is just the tip of the iceberg and that many more are unreported.

Sexual harassment in heath care settings is probably even less reported than sexual violence. The hierarchical structure of medical workplaces, with (primarily) male doctors in charge, can make it extremely difficult for female employees to report harassment. However, there have been some wins for California employees in recent years.

In 2011, a Monterey Park acute care facility agreed to pay $530,000 to settle a lawsuit charging that staff members were sexually harassed. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), female staff members were either retaliated against or forced to resign after complaining to the hospital administration. The class action lawsuit claimed that the hospital allowed a male admitting room clerk to touch female staff members inappropriately, proposition them for sex, post obscene pictures and other harassing behaviors. Despite complaints by victims, the male employee was not terminated until two years after the complaints began.

In 2012, a Sacramento physician’s assistant won a historic judgment of $168 million against a major hospital for allowing ongoing sexual harassment by male doctors and other employees. The victim reported incidents of inappropriate behavior repeatedly and was ultimately fired for what the hospital said was failure to show up for a shift.

California Sexual Harassment Law Is Strict

California law prohibiting sexual harassment is one of the strictest in the United States, and it was revised in 2014 to cover even more workers, in this case unpaid interns. All employers are obliged to prevent sexual harassment and may be held liable even if they were unaware of incidents that lead to sexual harassment charges. They are held responsible for creating a climate in which sexual harassment is unacceptable. These and other provisions of the law are designed to protect employees both against harassment itself and against retaliation if they report sexual harassment in the workplace.

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