We are reviewing and updating our Medical Staff Professionalism Policy and, while we include sexual harassment in the definition of unprofessional or inappropriate conduct, we are attempting to decide whether we should have a different process for addressing reports of sexual harassment.
Some courts have concluded that hospitals may be held liable for sexual harassment perpetrated by an independent member of the medical staff if the hospital knew or should have known of the conduct and failed to take immediate and appropriate action. Because of the unique legal implications surrounding sexual harassment, we recommend that a policy addressing inappropriate conduct incorporate a modified process for review of reports involving sexual harassment.
A single, confirmed incident of sexual harassment should trigger a well-defined process that involves the medical staff and hospital taking immediate and appropriate action to address the conduct and to prevent it from reoccurring. For example, a personal meeting should be held with at least two members of the professionalism committee (or similar committee) to discuss the incident. If the physician acknowledges that the incident occurred and agrees not to repeat the conduct, the physician is sent a formal letter of admonition and warning that is placed in his or her file. The letter should set forth any additional actions or conditions imposed on the physician’s continued practice at the hospital which result from the meeting. If the physician refuses to acknowledge the confirmed incident of sexual harassment or there are confirmed reports of retaliation, the matter should be immediately referred to the Medical Executive Committee to conduct a review consistent with the credentials policy or bylaws. A well-defined process which incorporates these details demonstrates the hospital’s efforts to address any incidents of sexual harassment and attempts to prevent them from occurring again, minimizing the risk of the hospital being held liable in a court of law.