By Mohamed Refaat, MBA, CPHHA.
Sex discrimination is against the law and has been since Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This law, along with various state and local statutes, prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, religion, age, national origin, and disability. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act 1964 prohibits discrimination in private employment with respect to compensation for and the term, conditions, and privileges of employment. This includes hiring, firing, promotion, transfer, job training, and apprenticeship decisions. Sex discrimination can be direct or indirect. Direct discrimination is whether employer treats employee less favorably than someone else who works for them because of sex. Indirect discrimination is whether employer has a rule, policy or practice which though not aimed at the employee personally, puts employee at a disadvantage because of sex.
While sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination, it is not always as easy to define. Typically, the legal issues will focus on whether the conduct in question is sexual in nature, unreasonable, severe, and unwelcome. Sexual harassment could include but not limited to: unwelcome comments of a sexual nature, unnecessary touching or unwanted physical contact, leering at someone’s body, sending offensive e-mails, and displaying offensive material such as posters.
Most experts agree that a key determinant of sexual harassment is whether the conduct is unwelcome. It is not a simple issue and its complexities make it a major challenge for organizations. The less tangible, but perhaps even more damaging effects of sexual harassment claims are distrust of management, high turnover, tarnished employer image, loss of productivity, poor product quality, and customer and shareholder dissatisfaction. Indeed, assistance in the resolution of ethical questions is ample justification for written standards of ethical practice within an organization. Such written standards also provide valuable guidelines for the day-to-day professional and business operations of an organizations.
The code of ethics of the American College of Healthcare Executives provides guidelines for ethical conduct for healthcare executives. It identifies standards of ethical behavior for healthcare executives in their professional relationships and in their personal relationships especially when their “conduct directly relates to the role and identity of the healthcare executive.” The code advises that healthcare executives should serve as “moral advocates” and should “act in ways that will merit the trust, confidence and respect” of all. In doing so “healthcare executives should lead lives that embody an exemplary system of values and ethics.”
In its section on Responsibilities to Employees the code obligates healthcare executives to “work to ensure a working environment that is free from harassment, sexual and other; coercion of any kind and discrimination on the basis of race, creed, color, sex, ethnic origin, age or disability.