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Practice dilemma: Sexually harassed receptionist

A receptionist at our practice claims she has been harassed by a male nurse. She says he constantly makes remarks about how she looks, what she is wearing and suggesting they go on a date. The receptionist has told him to stop but this hasn't made a difference. She feels uncomfortable and harassed. What should you do?

This is a very sensitive and difficult situation but it is important that the matter is dealt with thoroughly and swiftly. As practice manager you need to reassure the receptionist that the matter will be investigated and that such behaviour in the practice is not tolerated.

The first thing to do is gather all of the details from the receptionist regarding all the incidents, including times, dates, what was said and any witnesses, so that a thorough investigation can be carried out. It is also important to reassure the receptionist that she has done the right thing by raising her concerns and that she will be protected.

The next stage is for the practice to speak to any witnesses and to the accused nurse. The receptionist should contact the manager immediately if she is the victim of further harassment from the nurse at any point during proceedings.

In such situations, it is essential that a balanced approach is taken and that the nurse has a chance to put forward his side of the story. He should be called into an informal meeting to discuss the allegations raised and asked to give his response to each issue. The nurse should be advised a fair and just investigation needs to be carried out due to the serious nature of the allegations.

When interviewing any witnesses, facts should be established such as dates and times. It is important to get a description of what has been witnessed and not the employee's own personal view on the matter.

Once the investigation has taken place, all the information gathered needs to be reviewed and a decision taken as to whether the receptionist's allegations can be substantiated and whether formal disciplinary action needs to be taken against the nurse for sexual harassment.

If no evidence is established, then both the receptionist and nurse need to be seen in separate informal meetings to discuss the outcome of the investigation. The receptionist would be advised that the matter has been investigated but no further action can be taken. However, if she has further concerns about the nurse's conduct then she should inform you immediately. It is important that a safe and supportive environment is created for the receptionist to continue working in.

The nurse should be advised that there is no evidence to support the allegations and informed that no further action will be taken in this case. However, he should be advised that if further allegations and evidence comes to light then another investigation will be completed.

If the evidence against the nurse does stand up and the allegations are supported by the statements from witnesses, then a disciplinary hearing needs to be set up. The nurse should be informed in writing of the allegations and given the right to be accompanied by a work colleague or trade union representative.

He should also be given a copy of the investigation notes, including copies of all witness statements. Depending on the seriousness of the allegations, the letter may indicate that the outcome of the hearing may lead to dismissal for gross misconduct.

In situations like this, it is important that all allegations are fully investigated and that documentation is complete and accurate. The matter should be given full attention but in a timely manner.

Liz Symon is an employment law adviser for UK-wide medical and defence organisation MDDUS


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