Sexual harassment compromises the health of the victim in any industry or profession, but in health care, the behaviors can jeopardize patients, as well. Sexual harassment violates safety culture in health care institutions. 

According to The Joint Commission, every health care institution should have leadership that takes responsibility for safety culture, which includes taking steps to identify, track and prevent sexual harassment. 

Effects of sexual harassment in health care settings

Gender harassment, sexual coercion and unwanted sexual attention distract from clinical care and can lead to mistrust and lack of communication between employees. Teamwork deteriorates, and worker burnout and attrition increase. These all contribute to poor clinical outcomes. 

For example, a physician who makes sexually explicit comments during procedures may cause distractions in the moment, and may also intimidate or humiliate workers so that they are uncomfortable sharing patient-related observations. 

A healthy workforce and better care

Health care workers, institutions and patients all benefit from a work environment free from sexual harassment. Studies show that institutions report low employee turnover, increased quality of care and fewer medical errors. Patients enjoy better outcomes and engagement in these institutions, as well. 

Safety conscious leadership

Health care institutions should be proactive about preventing sexual harassment. This includes establishing education and training, creating a culture of respect and developing a system for reporting harassment that protects whistleblowers. The institution’s policies should be available, visible and easily accessible, and leadership should apply them consistently and equally. 

Zero tolerance policies in health care institutions require 100% commitment from leadership.