By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law
Throughout my decades of representing health care professionals, I have seen cases where an economic competitor of a physician generated false sexual harassment complaints to eliminate competition. I have seen cases where an ex-employee invented false allegations of sexual harassment after that employee was caught embezzling money from the employer. There have been cases where administrative and nursing staff have conspired to create complaints against a demanding and unpopular physician in a hospital setting. Therefore, I am never surprised when a physician claims they are the subject of a fabricated sexual harassment complaint and contacts me seeking a consultation.
As a result, I have come up with a list of tips that any individual health professional should follow to avoid such complaints and allegations.
Below are helpful tips that all medical professionals should know to avoid sexual harassment complaints or allegations:
1. Avoid all office and workplace romances.
2. Do not touch others, especially those of the opposite sex.
3. Never even consider having a romantic relationship with a patient.
4. Do not tell off-color or sexually suggestive jokes.
5. Do not compliment a worker, staff, or colleague of the opposite sex on their appearance, clothes, etc. This is a good rule to follow, even if the other person is of the same sex.
6. If your remarks or conduct is perceived as inappropriate by a staff member, or they say this, apologize immediately and assure them this was not intended and will never happen again. Then document the incident with a note to your own file or a memorandum to yourself. Consider reporting the incident your group’s administrator or office manager.
7. Do not socialize inappropriately with anyone who may be considered your subordinate or over whom you have perceived authority, especially where alcohol is involved. The exception is for sanctioned, official group functions.
8. Do not socialize with patients.
9. Do not use obscene language in the workplace, in front of other staff, employees, or patients.
10. If anyone alleges you acted inappropriately, report it to the group’s administrator immediately.
11. If a patient makes a sexually suggestive remark or asks you out, arrange to have that patient transferred to the care of a different health professional, immediately.
12. Know that plaintiff’s attorneys in sexual harassment and discrimination cases advise their clients to keep detailed notes and diaries concerning their contacts with a perceived abuser or harasser.
13. If a complaint is filed against you, report it immediately (to both the group administrator and your insurer) and retain an attorney to represent you regarding it. It could result in a lawsuit, a Board of Medicine complaint, termination of employment, peer review proceedings to revoke your clinical privileges or other actions.
14. Be familiar with your medical group’s and the hospital’s policies and procedures on sexual harassment, disruptive behavior, and reporting incidents. Follow it.
15. Act professionally when in contact with patients, staff, or colleagues.
16. Know that investigators and plaintiff’s attorneys in sexual harassment and discrimination cases often advise the alleged victim to contact the perpetrator by telephone and attempt to obtain incriminating statements. If a tape recording of the conversation is made by law enforcement officials, it will probably be admissible in proceedings against the alleged perpetrator. Never discuss any inappropriate activity over the telephone.
To learn more about the severe repercussions of such allegations, read my blog, where I discuss sex discrimination complaints against the University Of Southern California Medical School.
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About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave. Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 or Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.
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