Rules of engagement

Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose. It seems every time I listen to the news I hear another lascivious tale about yet another famous, powerful male fired for gross sexual behavior or harassment.

As business owners, let alone human beings, knowing what sexual harassment is matters. It is “a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” which defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature,” according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

In a nutshell, it’s harassment if submission or rejection affects the target’s condition of employment or negatively affects the target’s workplace environment. The harassment can be implicit or explicit.


Smaller practices are less likely to have a formal policy or training program and more likely to have a more casual workplace vibe: “banter” can be laden with sexual innuendo. While we shouldn’t police our employees’ conversations, we also need to make sure no one takes offense. How do we know what is OK? I call it the “daughter test.” If someone’s words or actions would rouse the same blood-boiling anger as hearing that your daughter’s classmates requested to see her in a racy selfie, then those words and actions do not belong at work.

And don’t think your medical degree or surgical skill lets you overstep boundaries. A real tale: a physician at another practice tried to impress an uninterested technician by texting her personal images of himself. Did it make her more appreciative of his manliness? Nope. Was he fired? Yes.


I have been a solo practitioner for over 20 years, and one of the most important things I did was write our employee handbook, including the harassment policy.

Having a written policy shows your employees you take this issue seriously. So:

  • Develop a sexual harassment policy, put it in writing in your handbook.
  • Print it and hang it up.
  • Train staff.
  • Have a written protocol to investigate sexual harassment complaints.
  • Develop a protocol for corrective action. This can include counseling, transfer, dismissal or cooperation with criminal proceedings. If you feel that this is overwhelming, outsource your HR needs to an independent HR provider.

It will also show your employees that you value them to the point of taking corrective actions if necessary. OM