Home 2024 Sleep Dentistry Issue Sexual Harassment Prevention: A Guide for Dentist Owners

Sexual Harassment Prevention: A Guide for Dentist Owners

by Deborah McPhee

Zero Tolerance Protects You and Your Practice

The #MeToo movement, initiated by activist Tarana Burke in 2006 and popularized by actress Alyssa Milano in 2017, has heightened awareness of sexual harassment across all industries, including healthcare. This movement underscores the importance of maintaining a safe and respectful workplace, a commitment that dental practice owners must prioritize to protect both their staff and their business.

All states have guidelines for sexual harassment prevention training, with specific mandates in states like California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, and New York. As a dental practice owner, it’s crucial to ensure compliance with these regulations to avoid civil fines and enhance workplace safety.

Key Statistics Highlighting the Urgency:

  • Every 93 seconds, an assault occurs in the U.S., highlighting the widespread issue of workplace harassment.
  • A staggering 81% of women and 43% of men have experienced sexual harassment at some point.
  • Reports indicate that up to 85% of women have faced sexual harassment at work, yet a vast majority do not file formal charges.

Understanding Harassment: The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines harassment as unwelcome conduct based on various characteristics, including sex and gender identity. It becomes unlawful when it creates a work environment that a reasonable person would find hostile or when it interferes with employment.

Actionable Steps for Dental Practice Owners:

  1. Compliance with Training Requirements: Ensure your practice complies with state-mandated training requirements. Options include online courses, in-house training programs, or hiring a professional coach. Control over training content is critical to prevent misinterpretations that could lead to legal complications.

  2. Developing a Safe Environment Policy: Implement a robust anti-bullying and harassment policy. This should include clear procedures for reporting and addressing incidents. A three-step approach involving verbal warnings, written warnings, and termination can be effective.

  3. Preventive Measures:

    • Use state and legal resources to formulate policies. Regularly update these policies with legal advice to ensure they provide maximum protection against liabilities.
    • Establish a system for immediate assistance in uncomfortable situations, such as a code word or signal that indicates help is needed.
    • Maintain a policy of never leaving anyone alone in the office late at night or in potentially unsafe situations.
  4. Surveillance and Documentation: Install cameras in common areas (while respecting privacy regulations) to deter inappropriate behavior. Keep detailed records of all incidents and training sessions to protect your practice legally and financially.

  5. Support and Communication: Foster an open environment where staff feel comfortable reporting issues. Understanding and addressing the concerns of your team promptly can prevent escalation and build trust.

  6. Understanding the Impact on Business: Recognize that harassment leads to significant business losses through reduced productivity, absenteeism, and potential legal costs. Proactive measures not only create a safer workplace but also contribute to the overall success of your practice.

As dental practice owners, your proactive engagement in creating a respectful and secure work environment not only complies with legal requirements but also sets a standard for professional conduct that protects your staff and your business. Be the leader your team can trust to address and resolve issues effectively.

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