Three ways to combat sexual harassment in healthcare organizations


More reports of sexual harassment in the workplace are arising every day. It’s time to rethink your prevention strategies.

Reports of sexual harassment in workplaces are common in the news these days. Obviously, current strategies aren’t working.

Given this, Managed Healthcare Executive (MHE) asked experts to provide some new ideas regarding how to prevent these types of problems. Here are three suggestions for MCOs to consider.

Method #1: Have an outsourced hotline protocol

Employers should retain an outside organization to field harassment complaints that employees can make without disclosing their identity to the employer, says Daniel I. Prywes, a partner at the law firm Morris, Manning & Martin LLP. The employer must publicize the telephone hotline (or an email address) to the workforce so that its availability is well known.

Hotline counselors could give complainants a range of confidentiality options. Complainants could designate the exact scope of information they wish to be shared with the employer, and also designate the departments within the employer’s organization which are to be provided that information. In the case of complaints about senior executives, complainants could limit disclosure to the board of directors or others who do not report to the senior executive.

Next, hotline counselors could convey information to the employer in accordance with the complainant’s conditions. “The hotline counselor should be available to serve as an intermediary for further interactive communications between anonymous complainants and the employer,” Prywes says. “Therefore, the employer could seek further details about the allegations, and encourage the complainant to waive confidentiality without the complainant first being required to shed the cloak of anonymity.” 

Prywes says this this type of hotline promotes disclosure by complainants. However, he realizes that anonymous complaints can include malicious and baseless complaints. “Employers will need to be wary of this possibility, especially where complainants refuse to waive anonymity after interactive discussions aimed at increasing trust that the employer is taking the concerns seriously,” he says. But it is better to have some information rather than no information about potential problems.

Method #2: Offer first-person virtual reality training

Harassment is a form of behavior-either verbal, physical, or both. Oftentimes, a harasser lacks empathy and understanding of the effects of their behavior. W. Todd Maddox, PhD, contributing analyst at Amalgam Insights Inc., an independent industry analyst firm, believes that first-person virtual reality may provide a tool for enhancing empathy and understanding.

“In brief, the idea is that you walk a mile in someone else’s shoes,” he says. “You do this by putting on a virtual reality head-mounted display and immersing yourself in a new world in which you are someone else. For example, to get an idea of what it’s like to face the types of harassment that women face, I could use virtual reality to immerse myself in a virtual world in which I was a woman who was experiencing harassment. It’s a very powerful, emotional, and visceral experience.”

“I believe that this is an effective tool for enhancing emotional intelligence and helping learners at a visceral level understand what it is like to be in a position of weakness and to be the direct target of sexual harassment,” Maddox says. 

Next: Method #3



Method #3: Attack rationalizations at the heart of illegal and unethical conduct

Have group discussions led by human resource personnel or compliance professionals, as well as senior managers, advises Todd Haugh, JD, assistant professor, Business Law and Ethics, Indiana University, Kelley School of Business, Bloomington, Indiana. Each group should be a mix of employees of different job types and levels. Discussions should include why the company has harassment policies, the specific harms to individuals caused by harassment, why harassment occurs even by well-intentioned people, and how it can be remedied. 

“The focus should not be on legal rules, but on harms caused and how that affects individuals, families, the company, and society,” Haugh says. “By confronting these issues, it becomes more difficult for a potential harasser to reconcile their self-perception as a good person or employee while also committing an unethical or illegal act.”

Haugh explains that rationalizing is the crux of the cause of illegal and unethical acts in business. “Rationalizations work by allowing an individual to hold two cognitively dissonant positions at one time: that they are an upstanding, ethical person worthy of trust in an organization, while also committing an unethical or illegal act,” he says. “The rationalization smooths over that dissonance by lessoning moral guilt.”

“During group discussions, when one of these rationalizations is expressed, it should be isolated and explored as a mechanism that allows bad conduct to go forward,” Haugh says. “Once participants see that, the rationalization losses some of its power. Rationalizations can be neutralized.”   


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