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Harassment is unacceptable in any form
Management

Discrimination and harassment - Part 1

11/02/2019
By Karen Crouch
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Workplace discrimination and harassment are ascending to greater levels of media prominence. In this two-part feature, KAREN CROUCH details how sound practices can curb inappropriate behaviour.

Having survived the festive season’s family and work-related social functions, it’s time to brush up on personal New Year resolutions. Many may be dwelling on the previous year’s mishaps or near misses, particularly where they relate to the workplace.

Sadly, work-related social events sometimes become unsavoury occasions as staff relax and exceed boundaries of personal familiarity. In particular, situations arise where, unfortunately, behaviours fuelled by excessive alcohol sometimes lead to uninvited personal contact.

Recently, we have heard about incidents of inappropriate conduct, both sexual and behavioural, by a wide variety of individuals. These have included affairs in workplaces, politics and other extramarital situations. More relevantly, a growing number of workplace relationship breakdowns have been reported very publicly.

Medical practices lend themselves to the exercise of undue influence by people of all genders at all levels of authority. For example, a senior clinician may exert inappropriate pressure over, or take advantage of, junior clinicians. Both male and female staff in authority roles have been cited for the improper treatment of staff.

"Practice owners must ensure their policies reflect opposition to all forms of discrimination or harassment"

Fact: in an ever-changing world of social behaviour, the line between the appropriate exercise of authority, such as advising, counselling or disciplining staff, and exposure to claims of discrimination, is becoming more confused. Consequently, practice principals and management personnel need to pay closer attention to the manner in which they deal with other employees in order to avoid misinterpretation.

The best starting point at which such inappropriate behaviours should be addressed is before an incident occurs, which can be done through development of relevant policies and procedures that staff of all levels must adhere to. As recent examples of unacceptable behaviour are regularly reported in the news, it may be necessary to amend existing policies or procedures to contend with, and avoid, such instances.

Changes to the broader topic of discrimination and harassment have clarified conditions under which such behaviours are considered legally unacceptable. While ‘office affairs’ may be generally viewed as relationships that develop in larger workplaces, smaller medical practices also lend themselves to development of close friendships which may, in circumstances like work-related social functions, progress to instances of objectionable conduct and result in formal complaints.

Through this two-part article, we identify processes and practices required to prevent discrimination and harassment, as well as actions to address complaints lodged by staff, or non-staff members after an event has occurred.

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Medical practices are, of necessity, workplaces in which collaboration, friendships and close relationships develop as clinicians and administrative employees combine their efforts to ensure quality healthcare for patients. In some instances individuals may exploit such friendships or relationships, resulting in various forms of harassment which conflict with policies and principles of the Anti-Discrimination agency and Human Rights Commission.

Anti-bullying legislation was introduced to prevent unreasonably aggressive personalities of any rank intimidating other workers, essentially defending the right of staff, particularly juniors, to be treated with dignity and respect.

Practice owners must ensure their policies reflect opposition to all forms of discrimination or harassment such as age, gender, religion, sexual orientation, disability, race, colour, descent, ethnicity, immigrant status or other forms of personal prejudice.

Practice principals should formulate a suitably worded policy and objectives that express zero tolerance of discrimination and harassment by:

  • Including documentation in practice policy and procedure manuals;

  • Ensuring workplaces are free from discrimination or harassment;

  • Ensuring staff, patients or external parties are treated with dignity, courtesy and respect;

  • Introducing awareness programs to inform employees of their rights and responsibilities;

  • Creating a procedure for complaint lodgement, based on natural justice principles;

  • Treating all complaints sensitively, fairly, in a timely and confidential manner;

  • Ensuring protection from victimisation or reprisals;

  • Encouraging reporting of behaviour which breaches the policy;

  • Promoting appropriate standards of conduct at all times;

  • Taking disciplinary action against employees or directors guilty of policy breaches;

  • Reporting serious breaches to police if appropriate.

If you have concerns about bullying or harassment within your workplace, one option is to engage the services of an external consultant to assist in resolving the matter.

In our next article we address sexual harassment, its various forms and actions required to address incidents.

 

More reading:

Discrimination and harassment - Part 2

 

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