Our post about anti-discrimination laws trumping patient (or customer) preference, i.e., an employer cannot comply with a patient request not to have an African-American nurse, brought the below guidance from one of our faithful readers.  We have also reprinted an earlier post of ours which is (somewhat) on point.

Claudia D. Orr, a Detroit-area attorney offerred the following:

“I generally suggest to my clients that they not only refuse to honor such requests but, if practical, allow the employee to be reassigned if the employee is being abused by the patient (e.g., an Alzheimer’s patient may say some pretty awful racist things that the employee may not want to endure). And, I also suggest informing family members that the request by the patient to not receive care from a particular race/sex, etc. is unlawful and will not be honored. A few years back there was a case against a hospital under Michigan law because they honored the unlawful request. You would have thought they would have known better!”

Our Prior Post

Thinking about Claudia’s good advice, we recalled a post of ours from October 28, 2013, where we said that “harassment can come from anywhere.”   It didn’t deal with “patient preference” but with “hostile work environment” caused by someone other than another employee.  We reprise that post below.

“We have written a lot about employer liability for sexual harassing behavior committed in the workplace not by supervisors or co-workers, but by non-employees. In short, it is immaterial who or what causes the hostile workplace – it is up to the employer to remedy the situation if made aware of it.

Apropos to this, the EEOC just announced that a Virginia healthcare company has agreed to settle a sexual harassment suit brought on behalf of a female receptionist who was sexually harassed by a male patient for $30,000. The employee made a complaint about this harassment to her supervisor, but the company took no steps to address the situation.

An Employer Must Address A Hostile Workplace No Matter Who Causes It

An attorney for the EEOC said what we have always advised in our blog: “Employers have a responsibility to prevent sexual harassment not only by co-workers, but also by third parties, including patients and customers. Employers need to adopt measures to end sexual harassment that has been reported to the appropriate supervisor regardless of who is perpetrating the misconduct.”

Shocking Rise Of Patient Harassment of Doctors

As an aside, take a look at our post of October 9th where we discussed the alarming number of female doctors (a majority!) reporting sexual harassment by patients. Perhaps the professional but faux “intimacy” created by the physical touching of the body loosens restraints in those who already have restraint, boundary or harassment issues, or perhaps it simply deludes a narcissistic patient; in any event, this is a shocking statistic to those is us who view physicians — male or female — as our lifesavers and can not even imagine crossing any boundary between doctor- patient.

Makes you wonder if formal harassment training should not be confined to the workplace (if, indeed, it is conducted there, as we always advise) — perhaps it should be taught in schools.”