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Avoiding Harassment in Medical PracticeMost medical practices aim to create a place of safety for their employees and clients as they provide patrons with the medical care they seek. Claims of harassment, discrimination and workplace violence are not only against a medical practice’s mission and purpose, but are also bad for the business and morale of an organization. These claims can damage an organization’s reputation, make it difficult in retaining employees and clients and cost a medical practice a significant dollar amount in attorneys’ fees, settlements, judgments, and punitive damages. While not all harassment, discrimination, and workplace violence occurrences and subsequent claims can be avoid, there are several actions medical practices can take to avoid them and ensure that they provide employees and clients with a protected workplace.

  1. Develop a prevention plan. A medical practice should first take the time to develop a plan that will help their practice prevent harassment, discrimination, and workplace violence. Although each plan will be somewhat different and tailored to the needs of each medical practice there are a few key things all medical practices will want to include in their prevention plan.
  • Policies that comply with U.S. federal law and the laws of any state where the medical practice does business.
  • Definitions and examples of harassment, discrimination, and workplace violence to help employees recognize how these actions are manifest in the workplace.
  • Emphasize that these types of actions will not be tolerated and apply to everyone, including managers and supervisors.
  • Emphasize that complaints will be taken seriously and employees who engage in this type of behavior will be appropriately disciplined.
  • Explain how the medial practice and employees should respond to these types of incidents.
  • Explain the established complaint and investigation process where employees can make complaints when harassment, discrimination, and workplace violence occur.

Medical practices should update their policies regarding harassment, discrimination, and workplace violence at least once a year to review its effectiveness and ensure it complies with federal and state regulations.

  1. Establish a complaint and investigation process.

If claims of harassment, discrimination and workplace violence are not addressed, that behavior is not likely to disappear on its own. In fact, studies have shown that if not addressed, the harassment, discrimination and workplace violence is likely to continue and not only become progressively worse, but also more difficult to remedy and prevent. Because of this it is imperative that medical practices establish a clear complaint and investigation process, which should at least include the following specific actions.

  • A specific place, person, and process where an employee can take their complaint. (The complaint process should allow an employee to bypass his or her current supervisor).
  • A prompt and detailed investigation to handle the complaint.
  • Appropriate discipline for employees who engage in this behavior and remedy measures to prevent future harassment.
  • Protection and support to employees who are subject to this behavior.

The medical practice’s prevention plan and complaint and investigation process should be given to individual employees and posted in public areas to ensure that these policies are easily visible and accessible should the need arise.

  1. Train and educate employees. Having a prevention plan and complaint process is a wonderful beginning, but it won’t have its intended effect without the proper training and education of the employees. Medical practices will want to do all they can to educate their employee regarding their prevention plan and the complaint and investigation process for claims of harassment, discrimination, and workplace violence. This training should occur at the beginning of a new hire’s employment. However, even if a medical practice provided a complete and thorough training for their employees on these subjects, they should still plan on retraining their employees at least every other year, ideally every year. This will ensure that all employees are aware of any changes in the law or the medical practice’s policies. Retraining also reminds employees of the complaint and investigation process and helps maintain a culture that encourages employees to submit a complaint when they feel the need and promote a more secure workplace.
  2. Keep thorough records. It is possible that even with every prevention action possible, a medical practice can still face of lawsuits from former employees claiming that, as the employer, the medical practice did not take the proper precautions in avoiding harassment, discrimination, and workplace violence. In that instance a medical practice will need to demonstrate first that they have an appropriate remedial complaint process and second, that the employee did not reasonably attempt to take advantage of that process by making a complaint. Or alternatively, the medial practice will need to demonstrate that when the employee made a complaint, the medical practice did follow the immediate and appropriate remedial measures to prevent future harassment, discrimination, or workplace violence. Proving these facts is much easier if a medical practice has kept a thorough record of every complaint made of harassment, discrimination, and workplace violence and the investigation process involved.

It is in all parties’ – the medical practice, employees, and clients—best interest for a medical practice to do all that they can to provide a safe working environment. Developing a preventative plan, establishing a complaint and investigation process, training and educating employees, and keeping a thorough record can help medical practices avoid instances of harassment, discrimination, and workplace violence and help stop their effect when they do occur.

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