Sexual Harassment and Your Medical Practice

November 14, 2017

Asset protection for physicians takes many forms. Recent events involving sexual harassment are a risk every doctor must protect against.

The Harvey Weinstein Effect

Starting with the floodgates that opened with the alleged egregious actions of Harvey Weinstein, headlines across the U.S. feature claims of sexual harassment, assault and misconduct with news stories literally breaking by the hour. Last week, various politicians, business executives, and entertainers like Mariah Carey, Louis C.K., Bill and George Takai were all named as alleged "bad actors" in cases as much as several decades old. While these cases make good headlines because they involve millionaires and celebrities, the specific accusations made are common to many of these types of claims against businesses just like yours.

With so many victims coming forward in a national movement (#metoo) and aggressively outing and suing those responsible a media feeding frenzy has ensued. Medical practice owners must be more vigilant that ever about protecting their employees and their businesses.

We have covered employment risk management from many different angles in the past and have shared statistics including that the average national sexual verdict is currently just over half a million dollars. Bill O'Reilly from FOX news reportedly personally paid $32 million to settle a single claim and his employer FOX as an entity has paid out $45 million dollars on sexual harassment since the middle of 2016!

Think Beyond Lawsuits and Money

As staggering as the financial numbers are, they are not the worst consequences of this behavior and claims. These real economic losses will be compounded by legal fees (easily six figures) and loss of income and assets that results from the factors below. Should you or your practice act in a way that is abusive, unprofessional and potentially illegal, you can expect the following results.

•End of your marriage and other personal and professional relationships

•Termination from you your job

•Your personal and business reputation will be permanently sullied

•Patients will see it and avoid your practice, the internet is "forever"

•Partners, employees and associates will often leave you, compounding your financial difficulties

How to Protect Your Practice

It's relatively easy to protect yourself. First, be engaged and have a culture of respect and compliance starting from the top of the organization. In many cases it is a failure of leadership and supervision, as opposed to intent or morality, that allows a hostile environment to exist or for individuals to act recklessly.

A culture of respect means having hard conversations and enforcing the rules and generally being the adult in the room. Many of the HR problems we see at medical practices come from doctors who are either conflict averse or who delegate the management of their practice and future to the point of being ignorant. Your employees and partners should know that you run the kind of shop where this behavior would never be allowed.

Second, have well defined written polices on professional conduct, reporting of complaints, termination policies, and how conflicts are resolved. You can create these documents by consulting state law specific employment policy manuals which we have covered before. The one you begged, borrowed or stole from the internet often isn't the best or compliant with your business or state's laws. 

Third, be insured against the risks that may fall through the cracks. I've previously explained EPLI (employment practices liability insurance) in detail in another blog. Make sure you have that coverage in place and that the limits are high enough (seven figures, not just a $50K rider in your general liability policy) to cover both possible defense costs and a settlement or judgment if required and deal with an experienced agent that will explain the exclusions in your policy.

Finally, never think you're only responsible for your personal conduct. The effect of the law is that you are legally responsible for almost everything that happens in your office whether you knew or participated or not, so be proactive and protect yourself and your assets.